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The term predicate is used in one of two ways in
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and structure. Linguis ...
and its subfields. The first defines a predicate as everything in a standard declarative sentence except the subject, and the other views it as just the main content verb or associated predicative expression of a clause. Thus, by the first definition the predicate of the sentence ''Frank likes cake'' is ''likes cake''. By the second definition, the predicate of the same sentence is just the content verb ''likes'', whereby ''Frank'' and ''cake'' are the
arguments An argument is a statement or group of statements called premises intended to determine the degree of truth or acceptability of another statement called conclusion. Arguments can be studied from three main perspectives: the logical, the dialect ...
of this predicate. Differences between these two definitions can lead to confusion.


Syntax


Traditional grammar

The notion of a predicate in traditional grammar traces back to
Aristotelian logic In philosophy, term logic, also known as traditional logic, syllogistic logic or Aristotelian logic, is a loose name for an approach to formal logic that began with Aristotle and was developed further in ancient history mostly by his followers, t ...
. A predicate is seen as a property that a subject has or is characterized by. A predicate is therefore an expression that can be ''true of'' something. Thus, the expression "is moving" is true of anything that is moving. This classical understanding of predicates was adopted more or less directly into Latin and Greek grammars; and from there, it made its way into English grammars, where it is applied directly to the analysis of sentence structure. It is also the understanding of predicates as defined in English-language dictionaries. The predicate is one of the two main parts of a sentence (the other being the subject, which the predicate modifies). The predicate must contain a
verb A verb () is a word (part of speech) that in syntax generally conveys an action (''bring'', ''read'', ''walk'', ''run'', ''learn''), an occurrence (''happen'', ''become''), or a state of being (''be'', ''exist'', ''stand''). In the usual descr ...
, and the verb requires or permits other elements to complete the predicate, or it precludes them from doing so. These elements are objects (direct, indirect, prepositional), predicatives, and adjuncts: :: She dances. — Verb-only predicate. :: Ben reads the book. — Verb-plus-direct-object predicate. :: Ben's mother, Felicity, gave me a present. — Verb-plus-indirect-object-plus-direct-object predicate. :: She listened to the radio. — Verb-plus-prepositional-object predicate. :: She is in the park. — Verb-plus-predicative-prepositional-phrase predicate. :: She met him in the park. — Verb-plus-direct-object-plus-adjunct predicate. The predicate provides information about the subject, such as what the subject is, what the subject is doing, or what the subject is like. The relation between a subject and its predicate is sometimes called a nexus. A ''predicative nominal'' is a
noun phrase In linguistics, a noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase that has a noun or pronoun as its head or performs the same grammatical function as a noun. Noun phrases are very common cross-linguistically, and they may be the most frequently oc ...
, such as in a sentence ''George III is the king of England'', the phrase ''the king of England'' being the predicative nominal. In English, the subject and predicative nominal must be connected by a linking verb, also called a copula. A ''predicative adjective'' is an
adjective In linguistics, an adjective (abbreviated ) is a word that generally modifies a noun or noun phrase or describes its referent. Its semantic role is to change information given by the noun. Traditionally, adjectives were considered one of the m ...
, such as in ''Ivano is attractive'', ''attractive'' being the predicative adjective. The subject and predicative adjective must also be connected by a copula.


Modern theories of syntax

Some theories of syntax adopt a subject-predicate distinction. For instance, a textbook
phrase structure grammar The term phrase structure grammar was originally introduced by Noam Chomsky as the term for grammar studied previously by Emil Post and Axel Thue ( Post canonical systems). Some authors, however, reserve the term for more restricted grammars in ...
typically divides an English declarative sentence (S) into a
noun phrase In linguistics, a noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase that has a noun or pronoun as its head or performs the same grammatical function as a noun. Noun phrases are very common cross-linguistically, and they may be the most frequently oc ...
(NP) and verb phrase (VP). The subject NP is shown in green, and the predicate VP in blue. Languages with more flexible word order (often called nonconfigurational languages) are often treated differently also in phrase structure approaches. :: On the other hand,
dependency grammar Dependency grammar (DG) is a class of modern grammatical theories that are all based on the dependency relation (as opposed to the ''constituency relation'' of phrase structure) and that can be traced back primarily to the work of Lucien Tesni ...
rejects the binary subject-predicate division and places the finite verb as the root of the sentence. The matrix predicate is marked in blue and its two arguments are in green. While the predicate cannot be construed as a constituent in the formal sense, it is a
catena Catena (Latin for chain) or catenae (plural) may refer to: Science * ''Catena'' (fly), a genus in the family Tachinidae *Catena (linguistics) is a unit of syntax and morphology, closely associated with dependency grammars * Catena (computing), n ...
. Barring a discontinuity, predicates and their arguments are always catenae in dependency structures. :: Some theories of grammar accept both a binary division of sentences into subject and predicate while also giving the
head A head is the part of an organism which usually includes the ears, brain, forehead, cheeks, chin, eyes, nose, and mouth, each of which aid in various sensory functions such as sight, hearing, smell, and taste. Some very simple animals may ...
of the predicate a special status. In such contexts, the term ''predicator'' is used to refer to that head.


Non-subject predicands

There are cases in which the semantic predicand has a syntactic function other than subject. This happens in raising constructions, such as the following: Here, ''you'' is the object of the ''make'' verb phrase, the head of the main clause. But it's also the
predicand In semantics, a predicand is an argument in an utterance, specifically that of which something is predicated. By extension, in syntax, it is the constituent in a clause typically functioning as the subject. Examples In the most typical case ...
of the subordinate ''think'' clause, which has no subject.


Semantic predication

The term ''predicate'' is also used to refer to properties and to words or phrases which denote them. This usage of the term comes from the concept of a
predicate Predicate or predication may refer to: * Predicate (grammar), in linguistics * Predication (philosophy) * several closely related uses in mathematics and formal logic: ** Predicate (mathematical logic) **Propositional function ** Finitary relation ...
in
logic Logic is the study of correct reasoning. It includes both formal and informal logic. Formal logic is the science of deductively valid inferences or of logical truths. It is a formal science investigating how conclusions follow from premise ...
. In logic, predicates are symbols which are interpreted as relations or functions over
arguments An argument is a statement or group of statements called premises intended to determine the degree of truth or acceptability of another statement called conclusion. Arguments can be studied from three main perspectives: the logical, the dialect ...
. In
semantics Semantics (from grc, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference, meaning, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct disciplines, including philosophy, linguistics and comp ...
, the
denotation In linguistics and philosophy, the denotation of an expression is its literal meaning. For instance, the English word "warm" denotes the property of being warm. Denotation is contrasted with other aspects of meaning including connotation. For inst ...
s of some linguistic expressions are analyzed along similar lines. Expressions which denote predicates in the semantic sense are sometimes themselves referred to as "predication".


Carlson classes

The seminal work of Greg Carlson distinguishes between types of predicates., . Based on Carlson's work, predicates have been divided into the following sub-classes, which roughly pertain to how a predicate relates to its subject.


Stage-level predicates

A ''stage-level predicate'' is true of a ''temporal stage'' of its subject. For example, if John is "hungry", then he typically will eat some food. His state of being hungry therefore lasts a certain amount of time, and not his entire lifespan. Stage-level predicates can occur in a wide range of grammatical constructions and are probably the most versatile kind of predicate.


Individual-level predicates

An ''individual-level predicate'' is true throughout the existence of an individual. For example, if John is "smart", this is a property that he has, regardless of which particular point in time we consider. Individual-level predicates are more restricted than stage-level ones. Individual-level predicates cannot occur in ''presentational'' "there" sentences (a star in front of a sentence indicates that it is odd or ill-formed): :: There are police available. — ''available'' is stage-level predicate. :: *There are firemen altruistic. — ''altruistic'' is an individual-level predicate. Stage-level predicates allow modification by manner adverbs and other adverbial modifiers. Individual-level predicates do not, e.g. :: Tyrone spoke French loudly in the corridor. — ''speak French'' can be interpreted as a stage-level predicate. :: *Tyrone knew French silently in the corridor. — ''know French'' cannot be interpreted as a stage-level predicate. When an individual-level predicate occurs in
past tense The past tense is a grammatical tense whose function is to place an action or situation in the past. Examples of verbs in the past tense include the English verbs ''sang'', ''went'' and ''washed''. Most languages have a past tense, with some ha ...
, it gives rise to what is called a ''lifetime effect'': The subject must be assumed to be dead or otherwise out of existence. :: John was available. — Stage-level predicate does NOT evoke the lifetime effect. :: John was altruistic. — Individual-level predicate does evoke the lifetime effect.


Kind-level predicates

A ''kind-level predicate'' is true of a ''kind'' of a thing, but cannot be applied to individual members of the kind. An example of this is the predicate ''are widespread''. One cannot meaningfully say of a particular individual John that he is widespread. One may only say this of kinds, as in :: Cats are widespread. Certain types of
noun phrase In linguistics, a noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase that has a noun or pronoun as its head or performs the same grammatical function as a noun. Noun phrases are very common cross-linguistically, and they may be the most frequently oc ...
s cannot be the subject of a kind-level predicate. We have just seen that a
proper name A proper noun is a noun that identifies a single entity and is used to refer to that entity ('' Africa'', '' Jupiter'', ''Sarah'', '' Microsoft)'' as distinguished from a common noun, which is a noun that refers to a class of entities (''contin ...
cannot be. Singular indefinite noun phrases are also banned from this environment: :: *A cat is widespread. — Compare: ''Nightmares are widespread.''


Collective vs. distributive predicates

Predicates may also be collective or distributive. Collective predicates require their subjects to be somehow plural, while distributive ones do not. An example of a collective predicate is "formed a line". This predicate can only stand in a nexus with a plural subject: :: The students formed a line. — Collective predicate appears with plural subject. :: *The student formed a line. — Collective predicate cannot appear with singular subject. Other examples of collective predicates include ''meet in the woods'', ''surround the house'', ''gather in the hallway'' and ''carry the piano together''. Note that the last one (''carry the piano together'') can be made non-collective by removing the word ''together''. Quantifiers differ with respect to whether or not they can be the subject of a collective predicate. For example, quantifiers formed with ''all the'' can, while ones formed with ''every'' or ''each'' cannot. :: All the students formed a line. — Collective predicate possible with ''all the''. :: All the students gathered in the hallway. — Collective predicate possible with ''all the''. :: All the students carried a piano together. — Collective predicate possible with ''all the''. :: *Every student formed a line. — Collective predicate impossible with ''every''. :: *Each student gathered in the hallway. — Collective predicate impossible with ''each''.


See also

* Clause *
Categorical proposition In logic, a categorical proposition, or categorical statement, is a proposition that asserts or denies that all or some of the members of one category (the ''subject term'') are included in another (the ''predicate term''). The study of arguments ...
*
Dependency grammar Dependency grammar (DG) is a class of modern grammatical theories that are all based on the dependency relation (as opposed to the ''constituency relation'' of phrase structure) and that can be traced back primarily to the work of Lucien Tesni ...
* Inflectional phrase * Meaning-text theory *
Phrase In syntax and grammar, a phrase is a group of words or singular word acting as a grammatical unit. For instance, the English expression "the very happy squirrel" is a noun phrase which contains the adjective phrase "very happy". Phrases can co ...
*
Phrase structure grammar The term phrase structure grammar was originally introduced by Noam Chomsky as the term for grammar studied previously by Emil Post and Axel Thue ( Post canonical systems). Some authors, however, reserve the term for more restricted grammars in ...
* Predicative expression * Secondary predicate *
Topic–comment In linguistics, the topic, or theme, of a sentence is what is being talked about, and the comment (rheme or focus) is what is being said about the topic. This division into old vs. new content is called information structure. It is generally ...
*
Verb A verb () is a word (part of speech) that in syntax generally conveys an action (''bring'', ''read'', ''walk'', ''run'', ''learn''), an occurrence (''happen'', ''become''), or a state of being (''be'', ''exist'', ''stand''). In the usual descr ...


Notes


References


Literature

* * * * * * * * ** Also distributed by Indiana University Linguistics Club and GLSA UMass/Amherst. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


External links

* {{DEFAULTSORT:Predicate (Grammar) Syntax Linguistics Grammar Philosophy of language Semantics