Understanding Subjects, Predicates, and Objects

In order for a sentence to be complete, it needs two key elements — a subject and a verb. Additionally, the subject and verb must form a complete idea. That's why understanding subjects, predicates, and objects is so important.

First, we’ll dive into subjects, as no sentence can exist without them. Then, we’ll discuss objects and predicates, as they are faithful followers of subjects. To no surprise, you’ll see predicates and objects have something to do with the other key element of a sentence — verbs.

Sentence: Subject-Predicate-Object Sentence: Subject-Predicate-Object
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Subjects

The subject of a sentence is a person, place, thing, or idea. It’s always doing or being something. In the example, “I like to travel,” the subject (I) is doing something — liking to travel. If you’re ever unsure about the subject of a sentence, see if you can locate the verb. Then, ask yourself who or what is doing or being that verb. Let’s look at a couple more examples.

  • The carpet in the living room must be vacuumed.
    The verb “vacuumed” is pointing toward the carpet. Therefore, “carpet” is the subject of the sentence.
  • Since it’s filthy, the carpet must be cleaned today.
    Some sentences can begin with a clause or, in this case, a prepositional phrase. Don’t let that deter you from identifying the subject. The verb “cleaned” is still pointing toward “carpet.”
  • On her wedding day, Lexi trembled with excitement.
    This is another sentence introduced by a prepositional phrase. But, let’s look to the verb again. If you locate the action verb “trembled” you can ask yourself who trembled and see it was “Lexi”.
  • The stars sparkled in the night sky.
    In this sentence, the verb “sparkled” is referring to the “stars.”
  • The issue at hand is your happiness.
    It might be hard to identify the verb in this sentence. It’s “is.” This is an example of a subject being something. And that is the “issue.”

While on the subject of subjects, it’s important to understand the difference between simple subjects and complete subjects. A simple subject contains no modifiers. All of the above examples are simple subjects. Let’s look at an example of a complete subject:

  • The filthy, mangled carpet in the living room must be vacuumed.
    “Carpet” is still the simple subject, but the complete subject here is the “filthy, mangled carpet.” If you’re asked to identify the complete subject, be sure to include all the words modifying the subject.

Finally, there’s one more important element to the subject of a sentence. That is, sometimes the subject can be understood without appearing in the sentence. This sentence probably won’t seem strange to you:

  • Take out the garbage.

Where’s the verb? Where’s the subject? Well, the action verb “take” is right there at the start of this command, meaning the subject “you” is understood.

Predicates

Now that we’ve touched upon the basic elements of subjects and verbs, let’s discuss predicates. Predicates point toward the subject of the sentence, too. Sounds like the role of a verb, right? After all, verbs indicate what the subject is doing or being.

The close link between verbs and predicates is no mistake. In fact, predicates always contain a verb. However, they also contain a couple other elements. Those elements may include the verb, direct object, or any other clauses or phrases. In short, a sentence has two parts: the subject and everything else (the predicate). Let’s take a look at a few examples.

  • Sharon sang the song.
    “Sharon” is the subject. The verb is “sang” and the direct object of the verb is “the song.” This makes the entire predicate of the sentence “sang the song.”
  • Patrick walked to her house.
    Here, “Patrick” is the subject. What is he doing or being? He “walked to her house.” In that predicate, we find the verb “walked” as well as the object “to her house.”
  • They are experienced travelers, acquiring much knowledge as they go.
    In this example, “they” is the subject and “are” is the verb. Once we pinpoint the verb, we know it’s part of the predicate which, in this instance, is the verb “are”, the direct object “experienced travelers” and the clause, “acquiring much knowledge as they go.”
  • I love walking through the woods and twirling through the trees.
    In this sentence, we learn about the subject “I”. The verb is “love” but the sentence doesn’t mysteriously end with “I love.” Rather we learn more through the predicate which states the subject loves “walking through the woods and twirling through the trees.”
  • Yesterday, Chris took the dog to the vet for her shots.
    Did you locate the verb of the sentence right away? In this example, it’s “took.” From there, we see “took” is pointing back toward “Chris,” the subject of the sentence. This makes the predicate everything other than the subject, including the verb, “took the dog to the vet for her shots.” Now, we have the full scope of what the subject did.
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Objects

We’ve mentioned objects a couple times now. Each time, we’ve directed them back toward the verb. So, let’s take a closer look at these parts of the sentence.

Unlike predicates, an object is not essential. Predicates are an essential part of a sentence because they contain verbs. Objects, however, provide further information that isn’t necessarily required. They are helpful, though, because they further explain the action of the verb. Once you see a few examples, it’ll all come together.

  • Katherine walked her dog.
    Here, “Katherine” is the subject and “walked” is the verb. But, Katherine walked what? The answer is “her dog.” Again, objects expand verbs. This sentence didn’t simply read “Katherine walked.” Rather, it provides further detail, thanks to the object of the verb “her dog.”
  • They ran to the playground.
    In this sentence, “They” is the subject. “Ran” is the action verb. But, for more information, we learn where they ran. That is, “to the playground,” making it the object of the verb.
  • With gratitude, I opened the present and shimmered with joy.
    Don’t be fooled by the added components in this sentence: “With gratitude" is simply an opening clause, “and shimmered with joy” is added detail. “I” is the subject. “Opened” is the action verb. What was opened? “The present,” making it the object in this sentence.
  • I lit the candles.
    In this sentence, “I” is the subject. “Lit” is the action verb. What was lit? “The candles,” making that the object.
  • Sharon and Patrick walked their dogs together.
    In this example, “Sharon and Patrick” are the subject of the sentence. “Walked” is the action verb. But what was walked? “Their dogs.”
    Remember that “walked their dogs together” is the predicate of the sentence, encompassing the verb and the object of the sentence.

There are two types of objects: direct objects and indirect objects. Each example above contained a direct object. It answered the question “who” or “what” was carrying out the action of the verb. It’s important to understand indirect objects, as well. Let’s look at two examples.

  • I sent my mom a postcard from Paris.
    Here, “I” is the subject and “sent” is the verb. Sent what? “A postcard,” this is the direct object. But, who received the postcard? “My mom” received the postcard, making it the indirect object of the verb.
  • Emma gave me her gift card.
    In this example, “Emma” is the subject and “gave” is the verb. Gave what? “Gift card” is the direct object.“Me” is the indirect object that received the gift card.
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Tell a Better Story

It’s useful to know that verbs point back to subjects, predicates encompass verbs, and objects point back to verbs. Understanding what we write and how to use each part of speech will make us more powerful writers.

Now you can see that a sentence is a multi-faceted thing, containing several useful components. This is why diagramming sentences is so powerful. It allows us to visualize each component and effectively use them to tell a better story.