Subject and Predicate

The heart of a grammatical sentence is the subject and predicate. In a narrow sense the subject is the or words identifying who or what the sentence is about, and the predicate is the verb, expressing something about the subject. In a broader sense, the subject includes the subject word(s) plus all modifiers, and the predicate includes the verb together with its objects and modifiers. For instance in The man who lives next door decided last week to sell his the narrow, or grammatical, subject is man, and the narrow, or grammatical, verb is decided. The broad, or notional, subject is The man who lives next door, and the broad, or notional, predicate is decided last week to sell his house.

The verb in a grammatical sentence must be finite, that is, limited with reference to time or person or number. English has several verb forms called participles and infini tives for example, and to be). These can refer to any interval of time and can be used with any person or with either number. But by convention these nonfinite forms cannot by themselves make a sentence. Thus Harry was late is a grammatical sentence, but Harry being late isn't because it contains only the participle being instead of a finite form such as was.

Proper Construction

Even though a group of words is grammatically independent and contains a subject and a finite verb, it will not qualify as a grammatical sentence unless it is put together according to the rules. "Rules" here does not mean regulations arbitrarily laid down by experts. It means how we, all of us, use English. Thus Harry late was is not a good sentence. We simply do not arrange these words in that order.

Here's one other example of a nonsentence resulting from bad construction:

Harry was late, and although he was sorry.

And can only combine elements that are grammatically or more subjects of the same verb, for instance. In this case and joins two unequal inde pendent clause Harry was late and the dependent (adverbial) clause although he was sorry. The construction can be turned into a legitimate grammatical sentence in either of two ways:

Harry was late, although he was sorry. Harry was late, and he was sorry.

The Building Blocks

The basic slots of a grammatical sentence—that is, the subject, verb, object, and be filled by many kinds of words, phrases, and dependent clauses, the building blocks of sentences.

Phrases and dependent clauses are both functional word or more words acting collectively in a grammatical function, as a subject, for instance, or direct object or adverb, and so on. Functional word groups are enormously important. They enable us to treat ideas too complex to be expressed in single words as though they were, grammatically, only one word. Take these two sentences:

I know Susan.

I know that you won't like that movie.

Susan is the direct object of know. So is that you won't like that movie. For purposes of grammar the six-word clause functions like the one-word proper noun. Being able to use the full range of functional word groups available in English is essential to writing well. Here is a quick summary.

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