Predicate (grammar)

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The predicate (from Latin praedicatum , participle to praedicare “to exclaim, to boast”), also sentence statement in traditional grammar , is the core component of a sentence on which other parts of the sentence depend. In borderline cases, a sentence can also consist of a single predicate (e.g. in imperatives : "Come!"). Freestanding expressions without a predicate are not sentences. B. Headings, bullet points, exclamations, etc .: "The dog of Baskerville" (e.g. as a book title), "Bad dog!" (As an exclamation).

Most of the time a verb is used as a predicate of the sentence, but this is not mandatory in all languages. So the difference between the terms verb and predicate is that verb denotes a part of speech , while predicate denotes a grammatical function that verbs can have in a sentence.

The term predicate has two different meanings depending on the tradition:

• In German grammar , a predicate is a unit that consists of the main verb, possibly together with other verbs in the infinitive or other predicate supplements. This results in a division of the sentence, which is best seen in subordinate clauses, because there typically all predicate components are together at the end of the sentence:

... ... Adverbial subject object predicate
…because yesterday no one the dog went for a walk

In the German main clause, however, the components of the predicate can appear separately, but they still count as one unit. For example (predicate parts in italics): "It has no yesterday the dog out for a walk. "

• In other traditions , partly in English grammar and formal linguistics , a term predominates in which the predicate denotes the verb together with all additions except the subject (in many cases a verb phrase ). This also corresponds to the concept of predicate in Aristotelian logic : a predicate is everything that is said about the subject. From this second definition there is a subdivision:

subject predicate
Predicate verb object Adverbial
Nobody walked the dog yesterday

The predicate in German

In German, the predicate can consist of one word (one-part predicate) or several words (multi-part predicate). Multipart predicates can consist exclusively of verbs or verbs and other types of speech . The part of the predicate that does not consist of verbs is called the predicative .

One-part predicates

In the case of one-part predicates, there is only one verb that is a content word (main verb ); this also determines which clauses are at least still required. For example, the verb sleep only requires one subject , while the verb give, depending on the context, requires a subject and at least one, but usually two objects . A special feature of German is that modal verbs (such as must, may ) can sometimes be used as the only verb, as in the fourth example below:

  • "You sleep ."
  • "The band gave a concert."
  • "He gave her a tip."
  • "I have to go to town later."

In the German declarative sentence, such a single verb as a predicate is usually in the second position in the sentence , more precisely in the position of the so-called left sentence bracket .

Multipart predicates (without predicative)

Multipart predicates that only consist of verbs contain auxiliary verbs or modal verbs in addition to the main verb , and rarely also another main verb. Such multi-part predicates appear in the German statements (as main clause) in two positions: The finite verb again occupies the second position, but this is now an auxiliary or modal verb; the other verbs of the compound predicate stand separately in the final position in an infinite form . Examples:

  • “I found it . "
compound predicate with main verb and perfect auxiliary verb haben
  • “One will see. "
Main verb with future tense auxiliary verb will
  • “ Fortunately we can sleep in today . "
... with modal verb may
  • “It will probably not have been approved. "
Modal verb is , Perfect-Auxiliary be , passive auxiliary are (in the perfect shape has been ) and participle form of the full verb approve (as verb form infinite in the passive design)
  • “The dog came running up , panting . "
Compound predicate from two full verbs (the participle form panting , however, functions here as an adverbial )

Multipart predicates with non-verbal elements

In multipart predicates with a predicative , a so-called copula verb is combined with additions of other parts of speech. Sentence examples are:

  • "Wikipedia is great ."
  • "Everything will be different from now on ."
  • "Julia is still a student ."

There are also other types of multi-part predicates that are based on a main verb, namely predicates with resultant adjectives or functional verb compounds with nouns or other parts of speech (see the linked articles for details).

German and English in comparison

The existence of two different definitions of predicate is not a coincidence, but the concept of predicate in German grammar contains the thesis that the verbs of German actually (can) come together to form a so-called complex predicate (also: a coherent construction ). The syntax of the verbs and auxiliary verbs in English is structured differently, however, here each verb or auxiliary verb is initially only connected with its directly following addition. This can be clarified by using brackets as follows:

Deutsch: (dass) du den Hund [spazierenführen musst].
Englisch:       You [must [walk the dog ] ]

In school grammar, however, it is sometimes also common to speak of all verbs in the English sentence as “the predicate”.

In the English example above, the sentence is divided into two parts between the subject you and the rest. This “Aristotelian” meaning of predicate as “sentence minus subject” cannot be used in German grammar because the subject is often not one Verb phrase can be juxtaposed. Instead, in German, the subject can be found deep inside the verb phrase:

wenn gestern    Kunden ein falscher Betrag genannt worden ist.
     (Adverbial) (Dativ) (Nominativ)        (Verb)

A verb phrase can only be called a predicate if the subject stands outside of it, because only in this case is such a unit “predicated” about the subject.

Predicates without verb

In some languages, regular sentences can be formed without a verb appearing in them. An example of this is Russian . Unlike in German, the present tense does not have to appear in the present tense as a copula verb like sein , but adjectives or nouns can have a predicative function alone. The adjective has a special form in Russian for predicative use. Examples:

Он инженер.
On inžener     „Er (ist) Ingenieur.“
Инженер болен.
Inžener bolen  „(Der) Ingenieur (ist) krank.“

But compare:

больной инженер
bol'noj inžener  „(der) kranke Ingenieur“


  • Duden. The grammar. 8th edition. Dudenverlag, Mannheim 2009.
  • Dietrich Homberger: The predicate in German: Linguistic terminology in linguistics and language didactics. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 2013, ISBN 3-3229-2479-3 .

Web links

Wiktionary: predicate  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Sentence statement  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Dudengrammatik, 8th edition 2009. p. 844.
  2. after Lehmann, "Grammatisches Metapädeutikum" , as of September 19, 2015
  3. ↑ On this in detail: Hubert Haider: The Syntax of German . Cambridge University Press 2010. Chapter 7.