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Predicate Nominative v/s Predicate Adjective: Difference SIMPLIFIED!

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The word Predicate starts popping up here and there when we start studying grammar. Before we even know what Predicate is, they introduce us to its annoying children too – Predicate Nominative & Predicate Adjective! I remember being taught as a kid that the subject in a sentence is the one we are talking about and all the remaining part is the “predicate”. This is the definition I carried for many years before I realized what a predicate actually is. Just when I was settling into the understanding of Predicate, I was introduced to a new concept of – Predicate Nominative and Predicate Adjective. 

Seems like grammar is neverending! 

Both the phrases sound so similar, so the question arises – how are these two terms different? 

Let’s check it out.

While both fall under the category of subject complement, they have different word classes.

Predicate Nominative Predicate Adjective
Uses a noun or a noun phrase as a subject complement.Uses an adjective or adjectival phrase as a subject complement.
It replaces or renames the subject. It describes the subject.
It is in a nominative/subjective case.In modern English, standalone adjectives don’t have a case.
The predicate nominative can be used interchangeably and made the subject of the sentence.The predicate adjective can’t be made the subject of the sentence.
Example: I am just a human.Here the subject “I” can be renamed as the noun “human”, because I = human. Also, because “human” is a noun so it can replace “I” as the subject.Example: God is charitable.Here the adjective “charitable” describes the subject “God”. Because the predicate adjective is a description, not a noun, it cannot replace the subject, it can only describe.

Still a little confused?

Well, understanding complements is not easy without knowing the basics.

Perhaps we should break it down into small pieces – like a mathematical sum! I would always tell my kids to treat Grammar like Math. Both have a structure and determined steps to be followed. 

(I hope now you don’t belong to the “We hate Math” club.)

Okay, the breaking down?

We’ll first understand what subjects and predicates are, what complements are, a small recap of our nouns and adjectives, and so on before we jump to our main topic – Predicate Nominative and Predicate Adjective. 

Recap of the Basics: – Subject, Predicate, Subject Complement, and Linking Verbs

Step 1: What is a Subject and a Predicate?

A subject is any person or thing (noun/pronoun) one talks about in a sentence. Another definition says that the subject is the doer (performer) of the action in a sentence.

I am having lunch.
Christina is engrossed in her work.
In the first sentence, we are talking about “I” and its actions. That is why “I” is the subject. Similarly, in the second one, we are talking about “Christina” making her the subject.

Now, the predicate –
The predicate is the information that we give about the subject. In the above examples, we get to know that “I” is having lunch, so that becomes the predicate. For the second, we understand that “Christina” is busy with her work, so this information becomes the predicate.

The predicate consists of the following constituents –
Verb (compulsory)
Object (Optional)
Complement (Optional) – (Our article will revolve around this.)
Adverbial (Optional)

Although the definition matches the gist of what my teachers taught me (all the remaining parts), the trick fails to give an understanding of the predicate.
Let’s move on to step two –

Step 2: What is a Subject Complement?

A subject complement is a word, phrase, or clause that comes after the linking verb and gives the subject identity or description.
To be honest, complements are hard to understand without examples, so here are some of them –

John is happy.
Here, the word “happy” describes the subject “John”.
Note that one of the tricks of identifying the complements is to use the “=” trick. (Another math reference 😉
John = Happy
If we can use the “=” and understand the sentence without changing its meaning, the predicate has a complement. It’s a sure trick because it won’t work with objects or adverbials.
John is baking a cake.
John = Cake – Buzzer! Doesn’t make sense!
Let’s try this with another sentence.

Cathy looks fine.
Cathy = Fine
Yeah makes sense! So the word “fine” is again a complement.

We will look at more examples of complements below, for now, let’s move on to step three –

Step 3: What is a linking verb?

A linking verb connects or links the subject with the complement.
In the above examples, notice how the verbs “is” and “looks” connect the descriptions to the subject. Linking verbs do not perform any actions nor help the action verbs. They are incomplete without a complement.

The forms of “be” come under linking verbs – am, is, are, was, were, will be, etc.
Other words such as “look”, “seem”, “appear”, etc. act as linking verbs.

If we put all three steps together, we get a sentence with a subject and a predicate consisting of a linking verb and a complement.
Shannon seems taller than before.
Shannon = Taller
‘Shannon’ is the subject.
‘Seems’ is the linking verb.
‘Taller’ is the complement.

This was just to brief you. But, Jui has written a detailed explanation on Linking Verbs. Don’t forget to check out that first before going ahead, if you still have doubts about Linking Verbs.

What are the two types of complements we will learn in this article?

The two types of complements we will cover in this article are – Predicate Nominative and Predicate Adjective.

Here, nominative stands for a noun.

Go back to grade 1 or 2, you can recollect that noun is any person, place, animal, thing, entity, activity, feeling, state, material, etc. On the other hand, adjectives are descriptions of nouns. 

Keeping this rule in mind, we will come to our final step of the sum – understanding predicate nominative and predicate adjective.

What is Predicate Nominative?

A noun or a noun phrase that acts as a complement is known as Predicate Nominative. It replaces or renames the subject with a new identity. 

E.g., The investment is a disguised risk.

Here, the subject “the investment” is replaced by another noun phrase – “a disguised risk”. Even if we call it “the investment” or “a disguised risk”, we are referring to the same activity or decision. These two are just different names for the same thing.

Because the noun phrase acts as a predicate for the subject “the investment”, it is called a Predicate Nominative.

Let’s look at some more examples.

Examples of Predicate Nominative 

  1. Tracy is the showstopper.
  2. Jack seems a busy bee today.
  3. Rhonda was a 5th-grade teacher.
  4. Veronica will be the new chairperson.
  5. The boys were a bunch of crooks.

In all the sentences above, the complements are nouns or noun phrases. They rename the original subject –

Tracy = Showstopper

Jack = Busy Bee

Rhonda = 5th-grade teacher

Veronica = New Chairperson

The boys = Bunch of Crooks

The Grammar of Predicate Nominative

Predicate Nominatives are in the nominative (subjective) case. 

Note: The case of a word (especially pronoun) denotes where it stands in the structure of a sentence or what function it plays. E.g.,

Subjective/Nominative case = I

Objective/Accusative case = Me

Possessive/Genitive case = My 

So when you come across sentences such as – It was I who broke the vase, it is actually the correct grammatical version of It was me who broke the vase. Because of popular usage, the second sentence has come into acceptance. Also, we wouldn’t want to sound pretentious grammar nerds, right?

The explanation behind this is – because you replace the subject with another noun phrase, the noun phrase can become the subject itself. That’s why we keep it in the subjective case. Let me elaborate on this with a quick example –

  • Veron is the secretary.
  • The secretary is Veron.

Notice how both “Veron” and “the secretary” are capable of being subjects without changing their forms. Thus, predicate nominatives are rightfully in the nominative case.

Now that we understand what a predicate nominative is, let’s move on to predicate adjective.

(What do you think? Is it sounding more like Math now?)

What is Predicate Adjective?

Predicate Adjectives describe the subject. They don’t replace it like the predicate nominative and are comparatively easy to understand.

E.g., Miranda is healthy.

Here, the subject “Miranda” is described by the adjective “healthy”. Unlike predicate nominatives, adjectives don’t have a case. 

Let’s look at some more examples.

Examples of Predicate Adjective

  1. I feel dizzy.
  2. Sean looks distracted.
  3. Taylor seems busy.
  4. Justin is so nerdy.
  5. Trevor appears mature.

In all the sentences above, the complements are adjectives that describe the subject.

I = Dizzy

Sean = Distracted

Taylor = Busy

Justin = Nerdy

Trevor = Mature

The Grammar of Predicate Adjectives

We call them predicate adjectives because we use them in the predicate section of the sentence. We usually find adjectives placed before the noun (Ah! The inseparable bond!), such as –

“I have a good memory” or “Don’t wear a hideous gown to my party”. 

But in our case, the adjectives shift to the end of a sentence maintaining their distance from the noun. (Perhaps, a fight?) Whatever be the reason, this shift doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. 

You can use multiple predicate adjectives just like you use multiple adjectives before a noun.

  • It was a short and funny story.
  • The story was short and funny.

Remember, in modern English, adjectives without being attached to a noun don’t have a case.

To understand it better, you can check it out here.

Another thing to consider is not to confuse adjectives with adverbs in the predicate adjective. A very common example goes like this –

  1. The dog smells terrible.
  2. The dog smells terribly.

In the first sentence, the adjective “terrible” describes or modifies the subject “the dog” meaning the dog stinks or leaves a bad smell behind. That is why it’s a predicate adjective/subject complement.

In the second sentence, the adverb “terribly” modifies the verb “smells” meaning the dog’s smelling capacity (sniffing) or strength is terrible or gone wrong. Both sentences have different meanings based on which word class we use. 

So when you are using predicate adjectives, make sure that you use adjectives only and not adverbs.

What is the difference between Predicate Nominative and Predicate Adjective?

Now that we have covered both predicate nominative and predicate adjective, you can check out their difference which was explained at the beginning of this article. 

  • But the easiest way to remember the difference is to know that predicate nominative function like nouns, and predicate adjectives function like adjectives.
  • We all know that adjectives describe and nouns are entities. As long as you keep this in mind all the while learning complements, you are good to go.
  • They have such complicated names because they appear in the predicate section of the sentence. 
  • Remember to use the “=” trick to identify complements.


In short, predicate nominative and predicate adjective are both subject complements. While predicate adjective uses adjectives or adjectival phrases to describe the subject, predicate nominative uses noun or noun phrases to rename it. Both are used widely and commonly in our day-to-day speech. 

And yeah, Next time you are starting with a grammar lesson, get your mathematical brain active!

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