Welcome to Part One of my Sentence Autopsy! Today we’ll be examining the heart and lungs of sentences, more commonly known as the subject and predicate.
Without a subject, there is nothing to drive our sentence forward. The subject is the heart of a sentence; it is the who or the what to which the verb refers. An easy way to determine the subject is to isolate the verb and put a who or what before it. Let’s look at an example:
- Agent Scully poked the alien with a stick.
The verb is poked, so we ask who/what poked? The answer, of course, is Agent Scully. So Agent Scully is the subject.
When we talk about the simple subject, we are breaking it down to its very basic noun/pronoun. So if the subject in a sentence is Cigarette-Smoking Man, the simple subject is Man.
A compound subject is a simple subject that contains more than one noun/pronoun. So, for example (the compound subject is in bold):
- Blood, sweat and tears lined the walls of the Sanguinarium.
So if the subject is the heart of a sentence, then the predicate is the lungs. Predicates give movement and direction to our sentences. They describe what the subject is doing and always include the verb. To determine the predicate in a sentence, simply look for the answer to the following question: what did the subject do? Here’s an example:
- Mulder wiped alien goo off his face.
The subject is Mulder, so we ask what did Mulder do? The answer is that he wiped alien goo off his face – and that is our predicate.
When we discuss the simple predicate, we are talking about the verb/verbs that link to the subject.
- Tooms could squeeze through really tight places better than anyone.
So, in this example could squeeze is our simple predicate.
A compound predicate is a predicate that contains more than one verb that relates to the same subject. Here’s an example (the compound predicate is in bold):
- Poor Scully was abducted and probed by the scary aliens.
Naturally, because we’re discussing the English language, there are some unusual circumstances that make it tricky to determine the subject. In this case, I’m talking about imperative sentences.
In imperative sentences, which give a command or an order, the subject is always “you” but it is not usually expressed. For example:
- Stop those little green men!
Who should stop the little green men? Well, you should, obviously! You is implied but not actually stated. And – contrary to what might seem logical (English pshaws at your logic!) – that is absolutely acceptable.
Well, that brings us to the end of Sentence Autopsy: Part One. Be sure to check back next week for Part Two! Until, then, don’t stop believing!
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