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I've been reading around sentence structure in German and I was hoping that someone could clarify something for me.

From what I've read and understood, the following apply:

  • In English, the predicate is everything except for the subject. For example, in the sentence "The man drinks the hot coffee", the predicate is "drinks the hot coffee".
  • In German, the predicate is the verb (forming the Verbklammer). For example, in the sentence "Der Mann trinkt den heißen Kaffee", the predicate is "trinkt".

Is this a correct understanding? If it is, does that mean that there isn't one universal definition of the predicate across different languages?

Thanks!

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    "... does that mean that there isn't one universal definition of the predicate across different languages?" That's very unlikely, yes. – πάντα ῥεῖ Apr 27 '20 at 16:28
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    That is just a question of terminology. And in linguistics, "subject"/"object" are only rarely used, exactly because they fail to work for languages having structures that were not anticipated by Aristotle. – phipsgabler Apr 27 '20 at 16:41
  • ..."subject"/"predicate", is what I wanted to say. At least outside of semantics. – phipsgabler Apr 27 '20 at 16:55
  • Thank you both! – Jonathon Apr 28 '20 at 8:16
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Language is not 'objective', in the sense that there is no single way of describing it. Hence there is a multitude of schools of linguistics, each with their own view of how language is best described, and their own terminology.

So there is no single meaning of 'predicate' in any sense; it generally means something related to the verb. Some grammar might include the object(s) and any prepositional phrases in it, other grammars might not. In the end the only relevant issue is that one is consistent in the usage of terms.

I suspect that you are looking at different grammars (as grammars usually consider one language only) authored by different people, who have a different definition of 'predicate'. But there is nothing in either English or German that defines that these definitions are the only possibility.

There are also differences between general linguistics and the philologies; the latter are only concerned with their own languages and are thus more likely to be idiosyncratic. General linguistics is looking at regularities across languages, and tends to be broader in their definitions.

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I have read those two definitions too. For many decades I thought the definition as it is used in German grammar would be universal, but then, just a few years ago, I learned, that in English grammar you use a much broader definition for the term "predicate".

Even when I learned English as a foreign language in school, we used for English the German definition. And so I learned in school, that the basic sentence structure in English is:

SPO: Subject, Predicate, Object

I did not learn

SVO: Subject, Verb, Object

But SPO only makes sense, if the object is not part of the predicate.

  • That's really interesting. I always thought that the language of grammar would be universal but clearly not! Thanks for sharing! – Jonathon Apr 28 '20 at 8:17
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    @Jonathon Universal Grammar is a thing, but has at least as many critics as proponents. And it specifically does not use notions of subjects, predicates, and objects. – phipsgabler Apr 28 '20 at 12:21

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