Template:Grammar series In traditional grammar, a predicate is one of the two main parts of a sentence (the other being the subject, which the predicate modifies). In current linguistic semantics, a predicate is an expression that can be true of something. Thus, the expressions "is yellow" or "likes broccoli" are true of those things that are yellow or like broccoli, respectively. The latter notion of a predicate is closely related to the notion of a predicate in formal logic, and includes more expressions than the former one, like, for example, nouns and some kinds of adjectives.
Predicate in traditional English grammar
In traditional English grammar, a 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, and the verb requires, permits or precludes other sentence elements to complete the predicate. These elements are: objects (direct, indirect, prepositional), predicatives (aka predicate complements) and adverbials (either obligatory or adjuncts). In the following examples, the predicate is underlined.
She dances. (verb only predicate)
John read the book. (direct object)
John's mother Felicity gave me a present. (indirect object without a preposition)
She listened to the radio. (prepositional object)
They elected him president. (predicative /object complement)
She met him in the park. (adverbial adjunct)
She is in the park. (obligatory adverbial / adverbial complement)
The predicate provides information about the subject, such as 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 Predicate Nominal is a pronoun that follows a linking verb (see copula) and explains or identifies the subject of the sentence. A proverb used as a predicate nominative always follows a form of the verb be or a verb phrase ending in be or been. They cancel each other out, they describe each other. "George ||| is king of England" George and king of England are the same so they can cancel each other out. The subject and the predicate nominative must be connected.
A Predicate Adjective is an adjective following a linking verb that describes the subject, such as "Jenny is attractive" or "roses are red" red and attractive being the predicate adjective. The subject and the predicate adjective must be connected.
Classes of predicate
After the work of Greg N. Carlson, predicates have been divided into the following sub-classes, which roughly pertain to how a predicate relates to its subject:
A stage-level predicate ("s-l predicate" for short) is true of a temporal stage of its subject. For example, if John is "hungry", that typically lasts a certain amount of time, and not his entire lifespan.
S-l predicates can occur in a wide range of grammatical constructions and is probably the most versatile kind of predicate.
An individual-level predicate ("i-l predicate") is true throughout the existence of an individual. For example, if John is "smart", this is a property of him, regardless which particular point in time we consider.
I-l predicates are more restricted than s-l ones. I-l predicates can't 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 s-l)
- *There are firemen altruistic. ("altruistic" is i-l)
S-l predicates allow modification by manner adverbs and other adverbial modifiers. I-l ones do not.
- John spoke French loudly in the corridor. ("speak French" can be interpreted as s-l)
- *John knew French loudly in the corridor. ("know French" can't be interpreted as s-l)
When an i-l predicate occurs in past tense, it gives rise to what is called a "lifetime effect": The subject must be assumed to be dead or otherwise gone out of existence.
- John was available. (s-l <math>\rightarrow</math> no lifetime effect)
- John was altruistic. (i-l<math>\rightarrow</math> lifetime effect.)
A kind-level predicate ("k-l predicate") is true of a kind of thing, but cannot be applied to individual members of the kind. An example of this is the predicate "are widespread." One can't meaningfully say of a particular individual John that he is widespread. One may only say this of kinds, as in
- Humans are widespread.
- *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 don't. An example of a collective predicate is "formed a line". This predicate can only stand in a nexus with a plural subject:
- The students
- *The student formed a line.
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.
- All the students gathered in the hallway.
- All the students carried a piano together.
- *Each student gathered in the hallway.
- *Every student formed a line.
The philosopher Zeno Vendler came up with an aspectual classification of verbs, roughly having to do with how they present the temporal span of the events they refer to. After the work of the Dutch semanticist Henk Verkuyl, it has been widely acknowledged that the Vendler classes pertain to predicates and not to verbs. Whether or not the Vendler classes in their original form are correct is a hotly disputed topic within the semantic theory of aspect and telicity. There is a wide consensus that something like them is relevant, however. For some discussion see the references below. Vendler's classes are as follows.
A predicate is a state if it presents an event as a static state of affairs, i.e. an event where nothing changes. Stative predicates present events as unbounded in time. Put differently, a sentence like "John is ill" says nothing in particular about the temporal extent of the state he's in. Examples of stative predicates are "be ill", "sleep soundly", "know French". States typically can't occur in the progressive in English:
- *John is being ill.
- *John is knowing French.
They can occur with time-span adverbials like for an hour, but not with time-frame adverbials like "in an hour".
- John was ill for an hour/*in an hour.
Activities are like states in presenting events as unbounded in time, but they differ from states in involving some kind of change. Examples of activity predicates include "run in the park", "snore loudly", "fall through the air", etc.
Activities can occur in the progressive.
- John is snoring loudly.
- John is falling through the air.
They can occur with time-span adverbials, but not time-frame adverbials:
- John snored for an hour/*in an hour.
Accomplishment predicates also involve change, but they present the events they refer to as bounded in time. They can be decomposed into two endpoints (the beginning and the culmination of the event) and a process part. Examples of accomplishment predicates are "build a house", "run to the store".
Accomplishments can occur in the progressive. They do not occur with time-span adverbials, but do occur with time-frame adverbials.
- John is running to the store
- John ran to the store in an hour/*for an hour.
Achievement predicates are like accomplishments lacking a process part. They denote punctual change. Examples of achievement predicates are "reach the top", "win the race", "find his glasses".
- Carlson, Greg N. 1977. A unified analysis of the English bare plural. Linguistics and Philosophy,1:3, 413-458.
- Carlson, Greg N. 1980. Reference to Kinds in English. New York: Garland Publishing. (also distributed by Indiana University Linguistics Club and GLSA UMass/Amherst.)
- Jaeger, Gerhard. 2001. Topic-comment structure and the contrast between stage level and individual level predicates, Journal of Semantics 18(2), pp 83-126
- Kratzer, Angelika. 1995. Stage Level and Individual Level Predicates," in G. Carlson &F.J. Pelletier (eds.): The Generic Book. Chicago (The University of Chicago Press).
- Krifka, Manfred. 1989."Nominal Reference, Temporal Constitution and Quantification in Event Semantics". In R. Bartsch, J. van Benthem, P. von Emde Boas (eds.), Semantics and Contextual Expression, Dordrecht: Foris Publication.
- Vendler, Zeno. 1967. Linguistics in Philosophy. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.
- Verkuyl, Henk. 1972. On the Compositional Nature of the Aspects. Foundations of Language Supplement Series, nr. 15. Dordrecht. 185 pages.
- Verkuyl, Henk. 1993. A Theory of Aspectuality. The Interaction between Temporal and Atemporal Structure.. CSIL 64. Cambridge University Press.
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