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Arts & Letters Daily


Grammar Tutor: Simple Sentence

Today we are going to look at one of the most basic building blocks for talking and writing … the SENTENCE. Let me explain by telling this story.
Billy loves to play baseball. He plays first base, but, most of all, he loves to hit the ball. His Team knows he is good at it.
In the first game of the play-offs, his team won, partly, because he hit a home run in the seventh inning. Billy was the hero … he couldn’t wait to get home to tell his mom. As he entered his house, he shouted “We!!” His mother looked at him puzzled and asked what he is talking about. All Billy could say was “We!!” His mother shrugged off his excitement and continued with her work. Billy was disappointed that his mother did not share his excitement with him.
Billy’s Team won the second game as well. Again, Billy ran home to tell his mom about their victory. As he entered their home, he shouted “Won!!” Again his mother looked at him puzzled and ignored him.
Let’s look at Billy’s communication with his mother and see what went wrong … because he certainly failed to communicate his excitement to his mother.
After the first game, Billy announced his victory by saying ‘We’. This is what it looks like in a sentence:
Billy announced ‘who’ but did not say anything about ‘who’. In other words, Billy started his sentence with the subject but did not say anything about the subject.
Now let’s look at Billy’s communication after the second game when he shouted ‘Won’. This is what it looks like in a sentence:
This time he announced some action, ‘won’, which is the main function of the predicate of a sentence. But, he did not say who won. That’s why his mother ignored him again.
When Billy’s Team won the third game, it won the tournament and received the trophy. This time Billy shouted “We won!” at he entered his home. Guess what, his mother instantly joined him in celebrating his Team’s victory. Why? … because she knew what Billy was talking about.
Billy’s sentence looks like this:
His sentence had a subject (we) and a predicate (won). Billy had expressed a complete thought … that’s why his mother could understand what he was saying. Billy had discovered the basic features of a simple sentence … subject and predicate. In fact, he soon realized that he had to include a subject and a predicate every time he wanted to say or write something that others could understand.
To his disappointment, he found out that not all sentences have only action words in the predicate. For example, he was puzzled with the sentence: ‘I hit the ball’ which looks like this –
In this sentence, there is an action word (hit) which we call a verb, but the sentence also includes something that receives the action (ball) which we call an object. Billy could think of a number of sentences which include action words and something or someone who receives the actions. Can you?
Before long, Billy ran into another problem with this sentence about his sister – ‘Jane is a musician’. It does not have an action word. ‘What kind of sentence is this? It sounds right but I don’t know what it is’, said Billy.
Let me explain this sentence with the help of the following diagram.
Billy is quite right, the word ‘is’ is not an action word, it connects (or links) a word in the predicate to the subject. The word in the predicate (musician) describes Jane. That’s why we call this word a ‘PREDICATE NOUN’. As for the word ‘is’, we call it a ‘linking verb’ because it links the two words ‘Jane’ and ‘musician’.
Billy ran into one more problem as he looked through the pictures in the family album and saw a picture of his grandfather. He thought to himself – ‘My grandfather is old’. This sentence does not have an action word nor a noun in the predicate and, yet, the sentence sounds right. ‘What kind of sentence is that?’ he asked himself.
This is what the sentence looks like:
In this sentence, the linking verb (is) connects the subject (grandfather) to a word in the predicate which describes the subject (grandfather). That’s why the word ‘old’ is called a predicate adjective.
Sooner or later Billy will discover much longer sentences and he will wonder what all those other words are doing in the sentences. We will leave those questions for another time.
For now, Billy has discovered the basic parts of every simple sentence he will see or hear.
Let me summarize what we have learnt in this Lesson about simple sentences.
  1. A simple sentence must have a subject and a predicate.
  2. There are four sentence patterns for the simple sentence:
  • Subject – verb – We won.
  • Subject – verb – object – Billy hit the ball.
  • Subject – verb – predicate noun – Jane is a musician.
  • Subject – verb – predicate adjective – My grandfather is old.
Try the following activities to find out how well you understand the four sentence patterns:
After you have watched this Lesson, go to, for the NOTES, ASSIGNMENT and ANSWER KEY on SENTENCES.
Go to GRAMMAR in the top navigation bar; then go to SENTENCE.
Go to WRITING in the top navigation bar and click on SENTENCE PATTERNS.
To send any questions you may have about grammar, go and click on ASK Dr. OTTO. I will reply to your questions as quickly as possible.