According to Oxford Dictionaries Online:

Predicator means "(In systemic grammar) a verb phrase considered as a constituent of clause structure, along with subject, object, and adjunct."

Predicate means "The part of a sentence or clause containing a verb and stating something about the subject (e.g. went home in John went home)."

In the latter example of John went home, it seems, the predicate is went home whereas the predicator is went, home being an adjunct and thus not part of the predicator as defined.

Now, I looked further in this wikipedia article to better understand the difference. The article recognizes two competing notions of the predicate in theories of grammar:

(1) Predicates in traditional grammar (e.g., went home in John went home)

(2) Predicates in modern theories of syntax and grammar (e.g., went in John went home)

Which, according to the article, causes confusion as to what exactly the term predicate mean, and some grammarians came up with a new term "predicator" specifically for use (2), says the article. No problem thus far.

What bothers me: The article in its explanation of (2) says, "Other function words -- e.g. auxiliary verbs, certain prepositions, phrasal particles, etc. -- are viewed as part of the predicate." (Emphasis mine.)

Now, remember this definition of the predicate, i.e., (2) above, corresponds to the new term "predicator".

I understand that auxiliary verbs are part of this definition of predicate, because an auxiliary verb can be part of a verb cluster. But so can certain prepositions and phrasal particles?

The article has these example sentences (Words belonging to "predicate" (2) are boldfaced as in the article itself; My comments in parentheses.):

The butter is in the drawer. (preposition in being part of the predicate)

You should give it up. (particle up being part of the predicate)

Susan is pulling your leg. (I don't know why leg is marked as part of the predicate. Maybe a typo?)


Except for the last one, which I suspect is a typo, I'd like to know whether the preposition in and the particle up belong to the predicate as presented in (2) and thus belong to the new term "predicator".

2 Answers 2


The examples in Wikipedia can be viewed as correct. The sentences

(1) The butter is in the drawer.

(2) You should give it up.

(3) Sue is pulling your leg.

correctly illustrate one particular understanding of predicates. In sentence (1) the matrix predicate is indeed is in, whereby its arguments are the butter and the drawer. In sentence (2), the matrix predicate is indeed should give...up, whereby its arguments are you and it. And in sentence (3), the matrix predicate is indeed is pulling...leg, and its arguments are Sue and your.

Sentence (3) does not contain a typo; pull X's leg is an idiomatic expression, which means the predicate includes the object noun. 'To pull someone's leg' does not mean that you actually yank on someone's leg, but rather it means that you tease them by telling them something fictitious.

The understanding of predicates just described is similar to what one finds in extensive accounts of predicates:

 Napoli, Donna Jo. 1989. Predication Theory: A Case Study for Indexing Theory. Cambridge University Press. 

 Ackerman Farrell and Gert Webelhuth. 1998. A Theory of Predicates. CSLI Publications.

But a word of caution is warranted! The use of this terminology varies tremendously depending of the theory of semantics, syntax, and grammar that one adopts. Traditional grammar would certainly reject the understanding of predicates suggested with examples (1-3), since traditional grammar adopts an (in my view) overly simplistic understanding of predicates that has more to do with Aristotle's term logic than with grammar.

The difficulty with the terminology is illustrated well when considering the term predicator. If you look that term up linguistics dictionaries, you find that it is indeed employed as a means of overcoming the confusion associated with the term predicate. The extent to which this additional term successfully overcomes the confusion is, though, debatable.

  • Thanks for the answer. So, in the three examples, should the new term predicator be "is in", "should give...up", and "is pulling...leg", respectively?
    – JK2
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 2:08
  • 1
    Perhaps, but my preference is to avoid the term "predicator". I prefer the term "predicate" for those word combinations. The term "predicator" is not widely employed, and what exactly it is supposed to be is not clearly discussed by those grammars that use the term. I can back that statement up with examples. Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 2:16
  • I agree with Tim. A predicator would have to be something that predicates, but the noun predicate (pronounced differently from the verb, natch) already means that. So predicator must mean something else; but there isn't anything else except one more pinhead for angels to dance on. Go ahead; invent your own and win extra angels. Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 2:41

The terms predicator and predicate are meant differently from syntax and semantics points of view.

From syntax point of view, predicate is that part of a sentence apart from the subject, in which predicator is the verb cluster including the auxiliary and the main verb.

From the semantic point of view, a proposition of a sentence consists of arguments ( referring expressions) and predicator, which the the most important part of the remainder. A predicator can be realized by a verb, an adjective, a noun phrase ( not a referring expression), a pronoun and even a preposition. Ex: He is in the garden. Arguments: He, garden. The remainder: is, in: of these two, in is more important than is in presenting the meaning. Therefore, in is the predicator.

Predicate is a word or a phrase that can become the predicator of a proposition( in any sentence in ENglish). Then, a verb, an adjective, a noun phrase ( not a referring expression), a pronoun and even a preposition can be the predicate. This means in one sentence, a verb can be the predicator, while in another sentence, an adjective can become a predicator ( Mr Brown is handsome)

Hope everything is clear to you now.

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