Sentence Structure: Compound Predicates

“I want to bake a cake and eat it all!” This sentence has just one subject but two verbs. To complement the previous article on compound subjects, this time we’ll discuss compound predicates. Compound predicates allow you to make your writing sound more smooth and natural by combining events that occur to the same subject.

Consider the introductory example, above. This could also be broken apart and written as two shorter sentences:

I want to bake a cake. I want to eat it all.

However, the first sentence, which used a compound predicate, sounded more like natural English than these two simplistic sentences. As a result, you can use compound predicates to give your writing a more advanced, comfortable tone.

There’s also a lot of confusion about where to use commas in long sentences, and compound predicates are a common source of this uncertainty. Set your writing straight by brushing up on a few easy details behind the compound predicate.

How many verbs can one subject have?

Although a complete sentence is often defined as having a noun and a verb (or a subject and predicate), this does not mean you are limited to using only one verb. In fact, a single noun can be matched with as many verbs as you’d like to use! Using a flood of verbs in one sentence might not always create a clear or pleasing result, but it would be grammatically correct if done right. For example, you could describe a whole process:

In preparation for his trip, Micky gathered his belongings, packed the car, wrote the directions on the side of the map, told his pets goodbye, and finally locked up the house before climbing into the car.

How many verbs was that? Five? Yet each of them belongs with the same subject: Micky. In this example, most of the verbs are preceded by commas because they are being listed. With only two verbs, however, you would most often not use a comma for a compound predicate.

How do you join all those verbs?

For a more tame example, consider the line below, with only two verbs.

Mary always laughed or cried at dramatic plays.

Once again, we have one noun and two verbs. Notice this time, however, that the verbs are joined with “or” rather than “and”. As with compound and complex sentences, the verbs in a compound predicate can be joined with conjunctions.

The fluffy clouds lazily floated and slowly intertwined across the blue sky.
Sammy neither wanted nor asked for his help.
Joey dreamed of bigger things but feared change.
Call or text me when you get home.
Rebecca wanted to travel yet had no plans.

Unlike in compound sentences, these coordinating conjunctions are not preceded by a comma when used in a compound predicate. If the part of the sentence following the coordinating conjunction does not include both a noun and verb (i.e., is not a clause) then do not use a comma!

(Recall also that you never need to use a comma with subordinating conjunctions in a complex sentence unless they denote a dependent clause that comes before the independent clause of the sentence.)

How do I know if there’s a compound predicate?

Just ask yourself what the subject is doing. For example, what did Mary do in the example from the section above? Mary laughed. Mary cried. One or the other. Within the same sentence, there are two actions matched to her. This is your clue that a compound predicate is in use.

Practice Time!

Change the short sentences below into one longer sentence that uses a compound predicate. Each of these uses only coordinating conjunctions (no subordinating ones this time). Be careful not to make compound sentences instead! (That’s not the point of this exercise, after all. ^^) Check your answers at the end of the page.

  1. I went home. I did my homework.
  2. Road trips take a lot of work. Road trips are very memorable.
  3. I will watch a movie with a friend. I will read a book alone.
  4. I don’t want to go to the party. I don’t want to meet up one on one.
  5. I often study English. I practice speaking with my friends. I write a journal to improve my grammar.

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  1. I went home and did my homework.
  2. Road trips take a lot of work but are very memorable.
  3. I will watch a movie with a friend or read a book alone.
  4. I neither want to go to the party nor meet up one on one.
    (alt: I don’t want to go to the party or meet up one on one.)
  5. I often study English, practice speaking with my friends, and write a journal to improve my grammar.

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