Parts of the Sentence


The purpose of this section is not to provide a thorough, detailed discussion of every part of the sentence. It is, rather, a place to turn for some practical explanation for how the three parts of the English sentence function and why they are important to better writing. Listed below are the three terms that are traditionally applied to these functions. A conceptual explanation accompanies each term. If you have a special concern, click on the link below to move to that discussion.


The Verb

The Subject




Often the easiest part of the sentence to identify is the verb (or predicate). If you simply ask yourself, "what energy is being expended in this sentence?" you can often identify the energy words or verbs of the sentence. Verbs can express action (Jack hit the ball), occurrence (The snow stopped), and existence (Harold is here). Sometimes the main verb has some extra verb-words that go with it in order to change tenses (is, are, was, were, be, am, been, being, have, has, had, do, does, did, shall, will, should, would, could, may, might, can, must).

Usually when a teacher asks you to identify the main verb, the teacher wants just the key verb which expresses the energy of the sentence (hit). If the teacher asks you to identify the complete verb, the teacher wants the main verb plus the extra verb-words that help make the various tenses (was hit). If the teacher asks you to identify the predicate, the teacher wants you to include the complete verb plus any modifying parts (was hit by John).

But there are words that look like verbs that are not functioning as verbs in a sentence. The way to tell if these words are "working verbs" is to look for a subject (a noun or pronoun) that tells you who or what? For example in the sentence, "The bone was eaten by the dog," you know that was eaten is a working verb because it has a subject that answers the question "what was eaten?" But in the sentence "Jack expects to spend his winter vacation in Colorado skiing the slopes," the word skiing is not a working verb because it doesn't have its own subject.

The Subject

You can find the subject of the sentence by practicing the technique just described in the previous paragraph. Find the verb and then ask "who" or "what was" and you'll discover the subject. Another way of understanding the subject is to ask yourself, "what is the main concept or concern of the sentence."

Sometimes individual words are the subject of a sentence, but other times groups of words are the subject. Here are two examples (the subjects are underlined):

Jane made a cake for Harold's birthday.
Fixing the leaking pipe took a lot longer than Frank expected.

In both cases, however, asking "who" or "what" after finding the verb would help you identify both of the subjects above.

Finding the subject and the working verb of a group of words is key to avoiding a number of serious grammar errors when we write. That's why it's important that you be able to find these two key parts. In the section Major Errors, you can put the theory discussed here into some practical application.


To complete our discussion of the major parts of the sentence, we need to mention the completers. Completers, from their very name, tell you that they finish or "complete" the sentence. They do not always appear in every sentence (The rain stopped), but most sentences have them. There are several types of completers, but knowing their names and what they are will probably not help you avoid grammar problems. Here's a list of the various types of completers in the English sentence (if you wish to know more about each type, consult your handbook): Direct Object, Indirect Object, Object Complement, Predicate Nominative, Predicate Adjective.