Sentence Patterns

Sentence Problems

Parts of a Sentence

Simple & Compound Subjects & Predicates


How to determine the subject

How to determine the verb

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Although this sentence has only two words, it's a complete sentence: I sing. It's a complete thought. It has a subject, the word I . The verb is sing. If we want to add words to the sentence, we can: I sing a lovely song. Those words a lovely song are not a complete sentence; they're just a piece of a sentence. That's called a sentence fragment.


Now, look at our example sentence again: I is the subject;  I is who this sentence is about. sing is the verb;

sing is describing or telling something about the subject.  a lovely song is a part of this sentence that comes after the subject, and after the verb. sing a lovely song is the predicate of the sentence. Now, we'll use sentences that are similar to our example sentence to explain the four different kinds of sentences:


1.  Declarative: makes a statement, and ends with a period. I sing a lovely song.

2.  Interrogative: asks a question, and ends with a question markDid I sing a lovely song?

3.  Imperative: gives a command or makes a request, and ends with a period or an exclamation point. (an exclamation point shows a strong emotion of some kind, i.e., pleasure, anger, fear, etc.) Sing a song for us now.

4.  Exclamatory: expresses strong feeling or emotion. He sang a lovely song ! (he = the subject; sang = past tense of the verb "sing"; sang a lovely song = the predicate)

Using what you have just learned, look at these examples and decide if they're complete sentences, or fragments (parts, or pieces) of a sentence. Remember: a complete sentence must have a subject and a verb:

    Complete sentences or fragments?


    The wet sailors.   

    The bird built a nest.

    Went to the store.

    She was very tired.

    Carl drove home.

    Carol made an error.

    A complete thought.

    A red bicycle.

    Going to the show.

A note about fragments

In everyday conversational English, we use sentence fragments all the time. Fragments of sentences are not used in any kind of formal writing, i.e., academic, business, or legal.


A simple subject is the main word or words that names the person, place, thing, or idea about which something is being said. A simple predicate (verb) is the verb or verbs which says something about the subject. The predicate completes a sentence. While the  subject shows who or what the sentence is about, the predicate gives the details that finish the sentence. To repeat: The simple subject is the principal word that shows who or what the sentence is about, and the simple predicate is the verb or verbs that say something about the subject.


Find the simple subject and the simple predicate in these sentences:  


1.  The pictures on the wall were painted many years ago.               


2.   Dancers in all the movies are in fine physical shape.                   


3.  Various teams of soccer players arrived at the World Cup.        


A compound subject is two or more subjects joined by a conjunction (usually and, or) and have the same verb. Look at this:

Peter and Jennifer = the compound subject; and = the conjunction; are = the verb; are good friends = the predicate.


A Compound Predicate is two or more verbs joined by a conjunction that have the same subject. 

        Mimi = the subject; fell, broke = 2 verbs; and = the conjunction joining the 2 verbs.

        Mimi (subject) fell down the stairs and broke her ankle. (compound predicate)


Identify the compound subjects and predicates below.  


1.   Lilly, Rudy, and David are all Brazilians.                                              



2.  Garlic keeps vampires away, flavors pasta, and makes your breath smell.   



3.   Harry's computer, DVD player, and television were all made in Japan.               


4.  Barry laughed, cried, and applauded when the winner was announced.                       


5.   Jason's brother and sister stole his best sweater, and let the dog sleep on it. 


If you have a problem deciding what the subject is, try to find the verb. Then ask yourself who or what.

While this method is fine for simple sentences, how can you find the subject if the sentence is a bit more complicated? "A few of us are tired of walking." (The subject is "few". See #2)  "It was Zeke who was the DJ for the street dance." (The subject is "it". See #5)

 Here are more tips for finding the subject of a sentence:


1.  In imperative sentences (showing a command or a request), the subject is always you, even if the word you isn't written in the sentence. Example(You) Shut the door. (You) Help your sister wash the dishes.

2.  Subjects are never in a prepositional phrase. 

3.  The words there or here are never subjects.

4.  If you are trying to find the subject of a question, try turning the question into a statement. 

5.  A verb complement can never be the subject of another verb. Example: "It was Zeke who played music for the street dance." Zeke is the complement of the verb was, so it cannot be the subject of the verb played. So the subject of the independent clause "It was Zeke" is it, and the subject of the adjective clause who played music, etc. is who.


If you have a problem deciding what the main verb is:

Every sentence names something, and then tells us about what has been named. Not every verb in a sentence is the main verb. There may be a number of verbs in a sentence, but the main verb is the verb that tells us about the subject. 


1.  A verb shows action or a state of being.  Here are  verbs that show a state of being. Memorize them: to be( is, are, was, were) to have , (have, has, had) to do,( do, does, did)   See Verbs

2. The main verb is sometimes more than word. For example: had been swimming, was being served, is talking, had chosen.

3.  You can test a word by using it in a sentence: Fill in the blank with the word you think might be a verb.  "Teddy" _____.     "Maria" _____. They _______. She ____.  Be aware that just because a word can make sense in the blank doesn't mean it's the main verb in the sentence.  It might be serving another function in the sentence.

4.  Does the word have number (singular form and plural form--she shops, they shop) and tense (present, past, present & past progressive: I shop, she shopped. He is shopping, they were shopping.) Try the different verb forms in the sentence to see if it still makes sense. 

5.  Words that are usually used as verbs don't function as verbs when there's an article (a, an, the) in front of them.

6.  Finite verbs (the verbs that make a sentence correct, that is, the main verb) never start with the word to. Lynne left the room to call her mother. To determine the main verb, write a sentence with each verb. Lynne left the room. This is an acceptable sentence. Lynne to call her mother. This is not an acceptable sentence.

7.  You cannot add verbs to a phrase to make an acceptable sentence when you are trying to determine the finite or main verb. When you're examining a sentence to find the main verb, you have to use the words that are in the sentence, without adding any.

8.  The main verb cannot be in a prepositional phrase. Here are some prepositions that can introduce words that appear to be verbs, but are not: to, under, behind, from, above, beside. See Prepositions


More practice sentences:

Will you still get confused and make mistakes trying to find main verbs? Yes. But the more sentences you study and the more you analyze the parts of the sentence, the better at it you will become!