By Amrita Ghosh

Groups of words make up different kinds of sentences. You can think of these groups of words as the building blocks which make up the sentences that we read. Once you have a strong foundation you can easily build on it.

It is very important for you to understand the differences between these components. An understanding of these concepts will help you in answering questions which seek to gauge your knowledge about basics of English grammar. 

Subject

A word or group of words that gives readers information about who or what is doing the activity described in the sentence, constitutes the subject of the sentence.

Eg. Neha is a sweet girl.

In this sentence ‘Neha’ is the subject. Here the activity that she is doing is that of being a sweet girl.

Eg. The red car is well maintained.

In this sentence ‘The red car’ is the subject. The adjective ‘red’ does not form part of the predicate. Instead, it adds a dimension to the subject, making the identity of the ‘car’ clearer. This is a usage of  an expanded subject.

In case of expanded subjects the adjective or phrase containing other parts of speech is used to add to the identity of the subject. It classifies the subject better by using its specific attributes as a means of identification. These parts of speech which aid in the expansion of the subject’s identity do not form part of the predicate. They are considered to be within the ambit of the subject of the sentence itself.

Predicate

The part of the sentence which says something about the subject is known as the predicate of the sentence. The predicate usually provides information about the subject or his action(s).

Eg. John completed his homework.

In this sentence, John is the subject. This is because he is the one who is depicted to be doing the activity of completion of homework. ‘Completed his homework’ is the predicate of the sentence. This group of words gives us information about the action that is done by the subject i.e. John. Within the predicate we see that ‘completed’ is the verb and ‘homework’ is the object.

Eg. I am tired.

‘I’ is the subject of this sentence. ‘The words ‘am tired’ constitute the predicate of the sentence. In this sentence we see that ‘am’ is the verb.

Things you should know about subjects and predicates in sentences

  1. The subject of the sentence is usually followed by the predicate. In certain cases however, the reverse may occur i.e. the predicate may be followed by the subject of the sentence.
  2. The subject of a sentence can be identified by framing questions. This can be in the nature of placing ‘who’ or ‘what’ before the verb.
  3. The predicate always contains the verb in the sentence. It may also contain an object.
  4. The object of the sentence is the entity on which the action depicted by the verb is performed.
  5. Sentences can exist without subjects. The subject of a sentence can be dropped in case of imperative sentences.

For instance, in the sentence ‘Sit down!’, there is no subject. In this case the subject is not explicitly written down. The subject ‘you’ is on the other hand implied in the sentence.

Phrases

Phrases are groups of words which contain either a subject or a verb. This means that if a phrase contains a verb, it will be lacking a subject. Conversely, a phrase with a subject always lacks a verb. Phrases may lack both a subject and a verb. A phrase does not have a predicate.

Eg. due to her laughter

These group of words contain a subject ‘her’ but no verb indicating an activity or state of being. They constitute a phrase.

Eg. riding off the road

These group of words form a phrase. They contain the word ‘riding’ which is a verb. However, there is no subject present. This is a phrase.

Eg. Besides the insensitivity and hypocrisy

There is neither a subject nor a verb present in this group of words. They also form a phrase like the previous two examples.

Clauses

A clause may be defined as a group of words which has a subject and a verb with predicate. Since clauses contain a subject, verb and a predicate, they can usually constitute meaningful sentences on their own. However two clauses can come together to form a sentence which is known as a complex sentence.

Sentences need not only be composed of one or more clauses. There may be different kinds of sentences, built with different building blocks. As discussed previously, two clauses can form a sentence. Similarly a clause can also combine with a phrase to form sentences.

Let us look at some examples.

  1. I will eat pasta and drink wine,

In this sentence the word ‘and’ joins together a clause and a phrase. ‘I will eat pasta’ is a clause. On the other hand ‘drink wine’ is a phrase. Even within the clause, the words ‘eat pasta’ constitute a phrase.

In the group of words ‘I will eat pasta’, ‘I’ is the subject, ‘will eat’ is the verb and ‘pasta’ is the object of the sentence. It contains a subject, a verb and a predicate. So as per what we have just studied, it is a clause. It can constitute a self contained sentence even if it is separated from the given sentence.

Now let us consider the group of words ‘drink wine’. Here ‘drink’ is the verb and ‘wine’ is the object. However there is no subject explicitly present in the sentence. Considering the contextual usage, there is no implied subject also. This is a verb phrase. It cannot constitute a sentence on its own if separated from the sentence.

  1. After drinking, Louis sat down.

In this sentence, a comma separates a phrase and a clause. ‘After drinking’ constitutes a phrase. On the other hand ‘Louis sat down’ is a clause. In the identified phrase, ‘drinking’ is the verb but there is no subject. In the clause however, ‘Louis’ is the subject and ‘sat’ is the verb with ‘sat down’ being the predicate of the sentence.

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