Subject & Predicate

Every sentence has a subject and a predicate. The simple subject of a sentence is the noun, pronoun, phrase, or clause the sentence is about, and the simple predicate is action being done by the simple subject. We can also divide a sentence into the complete subject and the complete predicate by drawing a straight vertical line in between the simple subject and the simple predicate. In the examples below, the simple subject is in bold and the predicate is in bold italics.

    • Einstein‚Äôs general¬†theory¬†of relativity |¬†has been subjected to many tests of validity over the years.
    • In a secure landfill, the¬†soil¬†on top and the¬†cover | block storm water intrusion into the landfill.¬†(compound subject)
    • The¬†pressure¬†| is maintained at about 2250 pounds per square inch¬†then¬†lowered to form steam at about 600 pounds per square inch.¬†(compound predicate)

Direct Object

A direct object‚ÄĒa noun, pronoun, phrase, or clause acting as a noun‚ÄĒtakes the action of the main verb (e.g., the verb is happening to the object). A direct object can be identified by asking¬†what? about the verb/predicate. In the example below, we would ask “The pencil contains what?” The answer, “workings,” is the direct object.

The housing assembly of a mechanical pencil | contains \ the mechanical workings of the pencil.

Subject Complement

A subject complement functions a bit like a direct object. The difference is that a direct object follows an active verb–a verb that denotes action, like eat, read, or drive–and a subject complement follows a ‘be’ verb–am, is, are, was, were, etc. In this case, the be verb acts as an equal sign in math (=). It tells us something about the subject of the sentence. A subject complement can be a noun, a pronoun, or an adjective.

The dog is a male. (dog = male)

The dog is mine. (dog = mine)

The dog is hungry. (dog = hungry)

Indirect Object

An indirect object‚ÄĒa noun, pronoun, phrase, or clause acting as a noun‚ÄĒreceives the action expressed in the sentence. It can be identified by asking¬†to¬†or¬†for whom of the direct object. In the example below, we would ask “For whom is the walkway being designed?” The answer, “citizens” is our indirect object.

The company | is designing senior citizens a new walkway to the park area.

Phrases and Clauses

Phrases and clauses are groups of words that act as a unit and perform a single function within a sentence. A phrase may have a partial subject or verb but not both; a clause has both a subject and a verb.¬†There are two types of clauses: independent and dependent. An independent clause is free to stand by itself–it functions as a complete sentence. A dependent clause, however, is dependent on something else: it cannot stand on its own. Any clause with a subordinating conjunction (like¬†when¬†or¬†since)¬†is a dependent clause.¬†For example ‚ÄúI was a little girl in 1995‚ÄĚ is an independent clause, but ‚ÄúBecause I was a little girl in 1995‚ÄĚ is a dependent clause.¬†Clauses that start with¬†relative pronouns, like¬†which,¬†also¬†become dependent clauses.

Adverbial Clause

An adverbial clause functions like an adverb. It modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. For example, in the sentence, “The dog eats when he is hungry,” the clause “when he is hungry” modifies the verb “eats.” It tells us when the dog eats. Because “when he is hungry” has both a subject and a verb, it is a clause, not a phrase. Since it can’t stand along (it starts with a subordinating conjunction), it is a dependent clause.

Absolute Phrase

An absolute phrase is one of the more difficult parts of a sentence to identify. An absolute phrase modifies an entire sentence and typically has either a subject or a verb or a subject and a partial verb. The verb is often in gerund form, meaning it ends in “ing.”

Having done his best, the student submitted his test.

In this example, the phrase “Having done his best” tells us about the subject, “the student,” and about the predicate, “submitted his test.” The phrase only has a predicate, so it is a phrase, not a clause. Since it modifies the entire sentence, it’s an absolute phrase.

Noun Clause AKA Nominative Clause

A noun clause is a dependent clause that functions like a noun in a sentence. It can take the place of a subject, an object of the preposition, or a direct object–anything a noun can do, a noun clause can do.

The hungry teenager will eat whatever he finds.

The complete subject is “The hungry teenager,” and the predicate is “will eat.” When we ask “Will eat what?” the answer is “whatever he finds.” That means that “whatever he finds” is the direct object. Since “whatever he finds” has a subject and a verb itself, we know it is a clause. So, since we have a clause doing a noun job, we know we have a noun clause.

Active and Passive Voice

There are two main ‚Äúvoices‚ÄĚ in English writing: the active voice and the passive voice. In the simplest terms, an active voice sentence is written in the form of ‚ÄúA does B.‚ÄĚ (For example, ‚ÄúCarmen sings¬†the¬†song.‚ÄĚ) A passive voice sentence is written in the form of ‚ÄúB is done by A.‚ÄĚ (For example, ‚ÄúThe song is sung by Carmen.‚ÄĚ) Both constructions are grammatically sound and correct.

There are several different situations where the passive voice is more useful than the active voice.

  • When you don‚Äôt know who did the action:¬†The paper had been moved.
  • When you want to hide who did the action:¬†The window had been¬†broken.
  • When you want to emphasize the person or thing the action was done to:¬†Caroline¬†was hurt¬†when Kent broke up with her.
  • A¬†subject that can‚Äôt actually¬†do¬†anything:¬†Caroline was hurt when she fell into the trees.

Prepositional Phrases

A prepositional phrase is a group of words that behaves as an adjective or an adverb, modifying a noun or a verb. Prepositional phrases contain a preposition (a word that specifies place, direction, or time) and an object of the preposition (a noun phrase or pronoun that follows the preposition). In general, a prepositional phrase follows this format: Preposition + article/adjective + noun/pronoun. For example, “on the box” is a prepositional phrase. In fact, if you think of all the things you can do in relation to a box, you’ll have a really

Key Takeaways

What can you do in relation to the box? You can go…
over the box under the box around the box through the box to the box from the box above the box below the box

3D Box” by kunal licensed under CC SA.

The following table lists some of the most common prepositions.



An appositive is a word or group of words that describes or renames a noun or pronoun. Incorporating appositives into your writing is a useful way of combining sentences that are too short and choppy. An appositive may be placed anywhere in a sentence, but it must come directly before or after the noun to which it refers:

Appositive after noun: Scott, a poorly trained athlete, was not expected to win the race.

Appositive before noun: A poorly trained athlete, Scott was not expected to win the race. Unlike relative clauses, appositives are always punctuated by a comma or a set commas. Take a look at the way Naomi uses appositives to include additional facts in her essay.

You might also want to take a look at this video explaining the parts of a sentence:

Original content by Dr. Karen Palmer licensed under CC NC SA.

Other content in this section has been adapted from the following sources and is likewise licensed:



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