Inside the Predicate

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Now we will look inside the Predicate, and assign functions to its constituents. Recall that the Predicate is everything apart from the Subject. So in David plays the piano, the Predicate is plays the piano. This Predicate consists of a verb phrase, and we can divide this into two further elements:

[plays] [the piano]

In formal terms, we refer to the verb as the PREDICATOR, because its function is to predicate or state something about the subject. Notice that Predicator is a functional term, while verb is a formal term:





However, since the Predicator is always realised by a verb, we will continue to use the more familiar term verb, even when we are discussing functions.

The Direct Object

In the sentence David plays the piano, the NP the piano is the constituent which undergoes the "action" of being played (by David, the Subject). We refer to this constituent as the DIRECT OBJECT.

Here are some more examples of Direct Objects:

We bought a new computer
I used to ride a motorbike
The police interviewed all the witnesses

We can usually identify the Direct Object by asking who or what was affected by the Subject. For example:

We bought a new computer

Q. What did we buy?
A. A new computer ( = the Direct Object)

The Direct Object generally comes after the verb, just as the Subject generally comes before it. So in a declarative sentence, the usual pattern is:

Subject -- Verb -- Direct Object

The following table shows more examples of this pattern:




Direct Object

The tourists visited the old cathedral
She sent a postcard
The detectives examined the scene of the crime

Realisations of the Direct Object

The Direct Object is most often realised by an NP, as in the examples above. However, this function can also be realised by a clause. The following table shows examples of clauses functioning as Direct Objects:


functioning as




Nominal relative clause

[1] He thought that he had a perfect alibi

[2] The officer described what he saw through the keyhole


To-infinitive clause

Bare infinitive clause

-ing clause

-ed clause

[3] The dog wants to play in the garden

[4] She made the lecturer laugh

[5] Paul loves playing football

[6] I'm having my house painted

Subjects and Objects, Active and Passive

A useful way to compare Subjects and Direct Objects is to observe how they behave in active and passive sentences. Consider the following active sentence:

Active: Fire destroyed the palace

Here we have a Subject fire and a Direct Object the palace.

Now let's convert this into a passive sentence:

The change from active to passive has the following results:

1. The active Direct Object the palace becomes the passive Subject

2. The active Subject fire becomes part of the PP by fire (the by-agent phrase).

In each of the following sentences, identify the Direct Object by clicking before and after it.







More on Form and Function...


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