July 11, 2013 | Yiddish

Predicate Perplexity!

I cannot figure out several paragraphs in my grammar book.

I was just working on Basic Yiddish: A Grammar and Workbook when I came across some utterly mystifying paragraphs under the heading “The predicative.”

This Book Is a Pretty Color

This Book Is a Pretty Color

The first two read as follows:

“The predicate in grammar refers to (1) the verb and (2) the subject of the verb and anything modifying (giving more information about) the subject of the verb.

“Examples of predicates:

  • 1. The good woman is reading.
  • 2. She is a good woman.
  • 3. The woman is good.”

Huh? My best guess was that the two references to “subject” in this quotation were supposed to be “object,” and that in each example a piece of the sentence was supposed to be boldfaced or underscored but wasn’t.

However, this seemed like a rather big and unusual set of mistakes for this Routledge series, and grammar terms and concepts are often way messier and more variable than people realize, and I had just woken up from a nap, so I went and did some googling to try to figure out whether there was a mysterious alternative theory of predicatehood I had never heard of.

I mean, the way I learned predicates, everything after “woman” in #1, after “she” in #2, and after “woman” in #3 is the predicate. It is, nonetheless, a wide, wild world out there.

Googling did yield a competing theory, but not one that explained the above. For those interested, here is a brief explanation of two different predicate philosophies, from the Wikipedia entry entitled “Predicate (grammar)”:

There are two competing notions of the predicate in theories of grammar. Traditional grammar tends to view a predicate as one of two main parts of a sentence, the other part being the subject. The purpose of the predicate is to modify the subject. The other understanding of predicates is inspired from work in predicate calculus (predicate logic, first order logic) and is prominent in modern theories of syntax and grammar. On this approach, the predicate of a sentence corresponds mainly to the main verb and any auxiliaries that accompany the main verb, whereby the arguments of that predicate (e.g. the subject and object noun phrases) are outside of the predicate. The competition between these two concepts has generated confusion concerning the use of the term “predicate” in theories of grammar.

Interesting. Not relevant here, though.

One thing that made me think the above excerpt from Basic Yiddish wasn’t just an error was that there was more in the same vein! The next paragraph continued, “A predicative can be a noun or pronoun (“the good woman” in example 1 above, “she” and “a good woman” in example 2) or an adjective (“good” in example 3).”

Can anyone shed any linguistic light on this grammar perspective?

Comments (4)

Emilie • Posted on Fri, July 12, 2013 - 9:17 am EST

Hello Ellen, I love your blog!

I knew I heard of predicate in French, so I went searching for it there. It is well explained here, in French : on th,e site of the Office québécois de la langue française. I hope this helps.

Kat • Posted on Sat, July 13, 2013 - 11:42 am EST

The definition of predicate might be complex, but the answer to your question isn’t - it’s not an object because a direct or indirect object would be in a different case. (Or maybe that’s backwards.) (Compare English “it is *I*” with “he saw *me*”.) In my understanding for the purposes of language learning, the predicate is what comes after the verb to be, if that makes sense. This often means nominative case rather than accusative.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sat, July 13, 2013 - 12:05 pm EST

Merci beaucoup, Emilie! I am mystified by a couple of elements in that explanation, but it seems to line up roughly with the Wikipedia quotation above rather than with the explanation in the Yiddish book that perplexed me so. In any case, the predicates offered up as examples correspond perfectly to my notion of the predicate!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sat, July 13, 2013 - 12:17 pm EST

Thank you, Kat. Yes, you are absolutely right that you can have nominative after the verb, and I would consider that part of the predicate (along with the verb). So even converting “subject” to “object” in that predicate definition from the Yiddish book would be problematic. It just seemed to me that doing so would bring the definition closer to common notions of a predicate than what was laid out there. Even if the nominative is preserved after the verb, it wouldn’t be the subject. The subject is never part of the predicate, and that’s what I can’t understand about the definition.

In all of the examples below, I would consider “it” the subject and everything after “it” the predicate.

It struck the wall. (predicate = transitive verb + direct object)
It was I. (predicate = linking verb plus nominative pronoun)
It is big. (predicate = linking verb plus adjective)
It gave her comfort. (predicate = transitive verb plus indirect object pronoun plus direct object)

Post a Comment