Submitted by haynesgoddard on November 24, 2006

Why do we call it “Predicate nominative”

While this is normally a grammar question, I cannot find why we use the language “predicate nominative” to name parts of a sentence. On the surface it connotes nothing. A search of my grammar books, the unabridged dictionary, the OED and an on-line search reveal nothing about the origin of this usage. Also, do we know what grammarian first applied this taxomony?

“Nominative” in Latin means “naming”. Do we mean that the part of the sentence with this name is based on, “predicated on”, the subject of the sentence? That is, is the noun “predicate” in this usage related to the verb “predicate”?

I have always thought this an unfortunate taxomy, as it makes language learning doubly difficult -- first the language, and then these arcane names to talk about it. This after having studied three European languages plus my own.


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I dont get the whole idea of predicate nomitive. Can you explain it to me? Im 12 but have the knowlegde of a 4 year old when it comes to latin. please help me!

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The "it" in your sentence ("Do you happen to know what time it is?") is not a predicate nominative. It is a relative pronoun in an interrogative clause. You could say that it is a predicate nominative of the interrogative clause alone, but it is not the predicate nominative of this sentence, since the interrogative clause functions altogether as an object of the main verb. Since "You" is the subject of the whole sentence, the predicate nominative must refer back to "you."

A clear example of a predicate nominative would be something like this:

"Mr. More never sacrificed his principles, and died a happy man."

Here, "a happy man" clearly refers back to "Mr. More," the subject, even though it occurs in the predicate of the sentence, after the main verbs ("sacrificed" and "died"). If this sentence were in Latin, "Mr. More" and "a happy man" would both be in the nominative, i.e., the grammatical case that indicates the subject. This predicate nominative implies a linking verb like "is" or "became" or "was made," and, as is the beauty of language, the predicate nominative here takes on an almost adverbial quality. That is, this predicate nominative describes *how* Mr. More died, simply by stating what Mr. More was at the time he died. You could unpack the sentence like this:

"Mr. More never sacrificed his principles, and he died, and he was then a happy man."

And we know, just from context and tone, as native English speakers, what is meant by all this. Namely: "Mr. More never sacrificed his principles, and he died happily because of this."

So, the predicate nominative brings up the subject again, in the predicate of the sentence. It often does this with an adverbial or adjectival quality, describing the main verb (and thus the whole predicate) by the qualities of the predicate nominative. In fact, sometimes this shows up in Greek and Latin grammar as a "predicate adjective!"

And yes, a very simple example would be: "That animal is a cow." "Cow" is a predicate nominative, but this example is so simple and devoid of illustrative possibilities, that many students can't understand a predicate adjective if only an example like this is used.

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I did not even know there was such a thing as Predicate Nominative until I was asked this question, 'Do you happen to know what time it is?'

How is the 'it' here as the Predicate Nominative give more information or describes the subject i.e time?

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That's exactly the point, big K. The reason we call it a predicate nominative instead of an object (or accusative) is because of the very equivalence you described. The verb "to be" is a copulative verb (oh no, here we go again). That is, it creates an equivalence that links subject to subject (or object to object). Calling the second noun a predicate nominative is a way of stating just that equivalence. Calling the second noun "predicate", just establishes that it is dependent on the first noun. Yes, as you said, all it means is that the second noun, er, comes second.

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What confuses me is, that it is sintactically possible to say both "A star is a celebrity" and "A celebrity is a star." How is the subject differentiated from the predicate nominative? Is it merely a matter of word order? If so, does that seem arbitrary to anyone or is it just me?

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i don't know

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The term "nominative predicate" would be clearer, or even "subjective predicate", but it only makes sense when the predicate is a pronoun (see first comment). However, even then, we are moving towards using objective pronouns (me, him, her, us, them) in tonic position ("It's him."), where the predicate nominative traditionally goes.

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"IMHO the terminology developed for Classical Latin is wonderful for its applicability to concepts in nearly every language, not just the Romance languages!"

I couldn't disagree more, Patrick. The terminology developed for Classical Latin is not really useful even for analyzing todays Romanic languages, all of which have dropped the Latin case system (except Rumanian, which uses a Slavonic case system). English definitely does not benefit from analysis using terms that don't fit its Germanic structure. I think we all tend to like the terminology of Classical Latin grammar because we are all so convinced that Classical Latin is some kind of pure model for all languages (the folks who gave us that idea where the same folks who told us that you can make a miniature human by mixing earth and semen in a bottle and burying it for 30 days) that we twist and bend the grammatical concepts of other langauges (like English) until those Classical Latin terms fit. I agree that something like "predicate nominative" doesn't really work for English, whose case system differed from Latin's in the first place and exists today more or less intuitively (rather than orthographically).

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With "verbs of being" what would usually be the "object" of the verb (and therefore be in Objective case) should be expressed in the nominative case for the reason explained in other posts. That's why "It is I." is preferred over "It's me!", even though this distinction seems to have all but disappeared in current usage.

IMHO the terminology developed for Classical Latin is wonderful for its applicability to concepts in nearly every language, not just the Romance languages!

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wat EXACTLY does "predicat nominative" mean??? it's REALLY hard to understand. can u please explain it to me as if i have 12-years-old(because i am)?

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One problem with English grammatical terminology is that too much of it represents usage more applicable to Classical Latin.

Many English "grammar concepts" have been hammered out artificially from Latin models.

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"Nominative" is common linguistic terminology for subject case, in languages which have case distinctions. English distinguishes case only in pronouns (e.g. "he"-- nominative case, "him"-- accusative case, "his"-- genitive case). Other languages, such as Greek, Latin, or Russian, have case distinctions for every noun.

"Predicate" refers to the major part of the sentence other than the subject... i.e. the part that tells something about the subject.

So a predicate nominative means that you have a noun in the predicate that refers back to the subject (thus making it nominative case rather than any other case).

Having said all that, I agree that it's rather a cumbersome usage. I guess all disciplines-- including linguistics-- have to develop a jargon in order to speak precisely.

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