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> Sentence Elements

  • Subjects and Predicates

Sentences are composed of two essentials elements: Subjects and predicates. The subject of a sentence is the person or thing being talked about; the predicate tells what the subject is, what the subject is doing, or what is being done to the subject.

Study the following sentence:

The new manager of the office received our co-operation.
complete subject complete predicate

The complete subject of the preceding sentence includes the subject (in this case a noun) plus all the words that describe or limit the subject (its modifiers). The complete predicate includes the verb plus its modifiers.

The heart of the complete subject is the simple subject (manager), and the heart of the predicate is the simple predicate, or verb (received). The following sentences are divided into complete subjects and complete predicates. The simple subjects are highlighted in red, and the verbs (simple predicates) are highlighted in blue.

Complete Subjects
Complete Predicates
All branches of the company
Our largest department store
An Alberta pilot program
Chain store executives
are linked by computer.
will be having a sale.
will be launched next month.
conduct traffic counts.

Notice in the previous sentences that the verbs may consist of one word or several. In a verb phrase the principal verb is the final one; the other verbs are helping or auxillary verbs. For example, in the verb phrase will be having, having is the principal verb and will and be are the helping verbs. The most frequently used helping verbs are am, is, are, was, were, been, be have, has, had, must, ought, might, can, could, would, should, will, do, does, and did.


In addition to a subject and a predicate, a group of words must possess one additional element to qualify as a sentence: the group of words must make sense. Observe that two of the groups of words that follow express complete thoughts and make sense; the third does not.

  1. Bradley built the business through personal contacts. (Subject plus predicate making sense = sentence.)
  2. Efficient service ensured return business. (Subject plus predicate making sense = sentence.)
  3. When Bradley started his own business (Subject plus predicate but NOT making sense = no sentence.)

In the third case a reader or listener senses that the idea expressed is incomplete. We do not have a sentence; instead, we have a fragment.

> Sentence Faults

Three typical sentence faults are fragments, comma splice, and run-on sentences. Good writers eliminate these sentence faults by applying the following adivce.

  • Fragments

Fragments are most often groups of words that are broken off from nearby sentences. They cannot function as complete sentences. Avoid fragments by making certain that each sentence contains a subject and a verb and makes sense by itself. In the following examples the fragments are italicized. Notice how they can be revised to make complete sentences.

Fragment: We're looking for a potential manager. An individual who can accept responsibility and supervise other employees.

Revision: We're looking for a potential manager who can accept responsibility and supervise other employees.

Fragment: My research report in business communication took a long time to prepare. And then turned our badly.

Revision: My research report in business communication took a long time to prepare and then turned out badly.


Another basic sentence fault is the run-on (or fused) sentence, which joins two or more complete thought without punctuation. Notice how the run-on sentences below can be corrected.

Run-on Sentence: The work ethic in Canada is not dead it is the deeply ingrained in most people.

Revision: The work ethic in Canada is not dead. It is deeply ingrained in most people.

Run-on Sentence: Gift certificates for courses are available prices range from $40 to $159.

Revision: Gift certificates for courses are available. Prices range from $40 to $159.


A comma splice results when two sentences are incorrectly joined or spliced together with a comma. The sentences below show how comma splices could be revised into acceptable sentences.

Comma Splice: Let us help you develop your on-line resume, visit us at Resume.org.

Revision: Let us help you develop your on-line resume. Visit us at Resume.org.

Comma Splice: You must fill one more purchase order, then your work is finished.

Revision: You must fill one more purchase order. Then your work is finished.

Comma Splice: Many applicants responded to our advertisement, however only one had the proper training.

Revision: Many applicants responded to our advertisement; however, only one had the proper training.


Three basic word patterns are used to express thoughts in English sentences.

  • Pattern No. 1: Subject-Verb

In the most basic sentence pattern, the subject is folllowed by its verb. No additional words are needed for the sentence to make sense and be complete.

Subject Verb

  1. We worked.

  2. Everyone is studying.

  3. She might have called.

  4. All the employeeds should have been informed.

  • Pattern No. 2: Subject-Action Verb -Object

In this kind of sentence, the subject is followed by an action verb and its direct object.

The object usually answers the question What? or Whom?

Subject Action Verb Object

  1. Most students brought supplies.

  2. The manager praised the employees.

  3. Mrs. Chartrand supervised them.

  4. All proceeds support volunteers.

This basic sentence pattern may also employ an indirect object that usually answers the question to whom?

Subject Action Verb Indirect Object Direct Object

  1. Our company offers employees excellent benefits.

  2. Tiffany gave him the book.

  3. We lent the neighbour our cat.

  4. Wendy bought her assistant a gift.

  • Pattern No. 3: Subject-Linking Verb-Complement

In the third kind of sentence, the subject is followed by a linking verb and its complement. A complement is a noun, pronoun, or adjective that renames or describes the subject. A complement completes the meaning of the subject.

Subject Linking Verb Complement

1. The author was Ms. Arnold

(Noun Complements)

2. Our customers are friends

3. Your supervisor is she.

(Pronoun Complements)

4. The callers might have been they.

5. These date are accurate.

(Adjective Complements)

6. His report is excellent.

The sentences shown here have been kept simple so that their patterns can be recognized easily. Although most speakers and writers expand these basic patterns with additional phrases and clauses, the basic sentence structure remains the same. Despite its length the following sentence follows the basic subject-action-verb-object order:

Many large companies, as well as small companies with sizable real estavte holdings, employ specialized risk managers to handle their insurance problems. (The simple subject is companies, the action verb is employ, and the object is managers.)

  • Inverted Order

In some sentences the elements appear in inverted order, with the verb preceding the subject.

  1. Sitting in front is Doreen.

  2. Last came the school choir.

In questions the verb or a helping verb usually precedes the subject.

  1. What is the shipment number?

  2. Have the bills been sent?

In sentences beginning with the adverbs here or there, the word order is also inverted.

  1. Here are the applications.

  2. There is a demand for accountants.

To locate the true subject in any inverted sentence, mentally rearrange the words. Place them in the normal subject-verb order.

  1. Doreen is sitting in front.

  2. The shipment number is what ?

  3. The applications are here.


The end punctuation used for a sentence depends on whether it is a statement, question, command, or exclamation.

  • Statements

Statements make assertions and end with periods.

  1. Laws require truth in advertising.

  2. Manufacturers today must label the contents of packages.

  • Questions

Direct questions are followed by question marks.

  1. How many e-mail messages do you receive in a day?

  2. What employee benefits will you receive?

  • Commands

Commands end with periods or, occasionally, with exclamation points. Although both statements and commands end with periods, the two sentence types differ in purpose and in form. We see or hear the subject of a statement but not the subject of a command. Note that the subject in all commands is understood to be you. The subject you is not normally stated in command.

  1. Shut the door. ({You} shut the door.)

  2. Insure your home against fire loss. ({You} insure your home....)

  • Exclamations

Showing surprise, disbelief, or strong feelings, exclamations may or may not be expressed as complete thoughts. Both subject and predicate may be implied.

  1. Oh! Static electricity gave me a shock!

  2. What a remarkable employee she is!

  3. How extraordinary(that is)!

Reinforcement Exercises:

Indicate whether the following statements are true (T) or Fales (F)

  1. The verbs are, may, and have are examples of auxillary or helping verbs.

  2. A group of words with a subject and a predicate is automatically a complete sentence.

  3. The complete subject of a sentence includes a noun or pronoun and all its modifiers.

  4. Two sentences joined only by a comma create a comma splice

  5. In questions the verb may appear before the subject.

  6. The complete predicate of a sentence tells what the subject is, what the subject is doing, or what is done to the subject.

  7. Sentences that show strong feelings are usually concluded with question marks.

  8. The verb phrase could have been is considered to be a linking verb.

  9. Complements may follow either action verbs or linking verbs.