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Subject/Predicate, Fragments & Run-ons, Punctuation

Subject/Predicate, Fragments & Run-ons, Punctuation

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In This Chapter…

Subjects and Predicates

Sentence Fragments & Run-on Sentences


Chapter 5:

Subject/Predicate, Fragments & Run-ons, Punctuation

Subjects and Predicates

Every complete sentence contains a subject and a predicate. It is possible for a complete sentence to

be only two words long:

We went.

Love hurts.

In both cases, the first word is the subject, and the second word is the predicate. Of course, most

sentences are more complicated, but at minimum, a predicate always includes a real verb.

Sometimes, it is difficult to understand the meaning of a sentence without some background

information, but that doesn't mean that the sentence isn't grammatically complete. For instance:

They gave it to us.

Who is they? What did they give us? You have no idea. But the sentence is still complete—it has a

subject (the pronoun they) and a predicate (gave it to us). The predicate contains a verb (gave), plus

some additional information. On the GMAT, this sentence would be incorrect, because they and it

lack antecedents, but again, the sentence is complete.

In a command, the subject you is implied:


A “command” sentence that is more likely to appear in business or academic writing might look

something like this:

Consider the case of Watson and Crick.

Here, the sentence is understood to mean, “You consider the case of Watson and Crick.” The subject

is the pronoun you.

Subjects are generally nouns and pronouns (such as we and love in the examples above). As was

discussed in the section on verbs, sometimes a gerund or infinitive can be a subject:

Dancing is a great joy.

To die for one's country is to pay the ultimate price.

Here, dancing is a gerund, and to die is an infinitive.

A group of words can be the subject of a sentence. Even a clause beginning with that can be the


That forty people dropped out is less a reason to condemn the program than to praise its rigor.

The subject is That forty people dropped out. That sounds like a very weird subject! You'd rarely

hear such a construction in speech, but it's perfectly grammatical. You could also write the subject as

The fact that forty people dropped out.

Now consider a much longer sentence:

Each of us has saved for weeks to be able to attend the Madonna concert, where we will undoubtedly dance all night to

Madonna's hits from the last twenty years, including “Papa Don't Preach,” “Open Your Heart,” “True Blue,” “Express

Yourself,” “Ray of Light,” “Beautiful Stranger,” and “4 Minutes.”

This rather silly example demonstrates how a subject is different from a topic.

What is the topic of this sentence? Perhaps “Madonna” or “some people who really love Madonna.”

But what is the grammatical subject? It is the word each.

Please don't get angry. It is understandable that it seems a bit weird that the subject would be one of

the least interesting, least descriptive words in the sentence.

To be clear—the subject of a sentence is not the same as the topic of a sentence. In some

languages, the idea of a subject and a topic are interchangeable. In English, a topic is what you're

really talking about. Two people could disagree about the topic of a sentence. A topic is a matter of

opinion. A subject is not. A subject is a grammatical concept; it is not about the meaning or main idea

of the sentence.

A simple subject is just one word—in this case, each. A complete subject is the simple subject plus

the other words that help to identify the simple subject—in this case, each of us. Most of the time, you

want the simple subject of the sentence so you can ask questions such as, “Does the subject match the


Here are some guidelines for locating the subject of a sentence:

• The subject is usually a noun or pronoun, but sometimes it's a gerund, infinitive, or a phrase or


• One good way to find the main subject is to find the main verb and ask what or who is doing

the action described by the verb


• A subject can consist of two or more things joined by and. For instance, Joe and Maria could

be a subject, or Dancing, drinking, and eating.

• The subject is NOT located in a prepositional phrase. This is why you spent so much time

learning to identify prepositions and prepositional phrases—so you can rule them out when

looking for the subject


• If you have a subordinate clause joined to a sentence with a subordinating conjunction, you

want the subject that is not in the subordinate clause—the “main” subject will be in the

“main” clause of the sentence.

Pop Quiz!

True or False: The subject of a sentence can be a phrase beginning with that or to.

Answer is on page 133.

Here are some more examples and then try a drill.

FIND THE SUBJECT: A big, fat, delicious chicken parmesan sandwich would be amazing right now.

The subject is sandwich. The adjectives big, fat, delicious, and chicken parmesan tell us more about

the sandwich. The sandwich is performing the verb would be.

FIND THE SUBJECT: Earth and the other planets in our solar system orbit around the Sun.

The subject is Earth and the other planets. In our solar system is a prepositional phrase. The

subject Earth and the other planets is performing the verb orbit.

FIND THE SUBJECT: None of the guests have arrived.

The subject is none. Of the guests is a prepositional phrase. The subject none is performing the verb

have arrived.

FIND THE SUBJECT: Although rapper Tupac Shakur died in 1996, his music has been released on no fewer than eight

posthumous albums.

The subject is music. Note that most people would say that the topic of the sentence is Tupac Shakur.

However, Tupac Shakur is located within a subordinate clause (although is a subordinating

conjunction). The main clause of the sentence is his music has been released on no fewer than eight

posthumous albums. The subject music is performing the verb has been released.

FIND THE SUBJECT: Because his jokes were so offensive, we left before the show ended.

The subject is we. The first part of the sentence is the subordinate clause (because is a subordinating

conjunction), and the second part, we left before the show ended, is the main clause. The subject we

is performing the verb left.

FIND THE SUBJECT: There are ten people waiting in the conference room.

In a sentence that begins with there and a form of to be (is, are, were…), the word there is NOT the

subject—rather, the word there is a clue that the real subject will occur soon. Here, the subject is

people. The subject people is performing the verb are waiting.

Notice that the compound verb is split up (are and waiting do not touch each other in the sentence). In

this kind of sentence, it can be helpful to eliminate the word there and to put the sentence in a more

normal order: Ten people are waiting in the conference room. This makes it pretty obvious that

people is the subject and are waiting is the verb.

FIND THE SUBJECT: Aside the highway was the wreckage from the crash.

A few sentences run backwards: Here comes the sun. It's the sun that comes, not “here” that comes.

The sentence in the example above begins with a prepositional phrase, aside the highway. Then there

is a verb, was. Finally, the subject, wreckage. From the crash is another prepositional phrase. Put the

sentence back in a more normal order to see the structure: The wreckage from the crash was aside

the highway.

Drill 5.1—Find the Subject

Circle the subject of each sentence.

1. Each of the women in the study said that her arthritis had gotten worse since beginning the therapy.

2. Only a thin sliver of the specimen is needed to perform the test.

3. All of us agree.

4. There are a bank, a nail salon, and a day care center in this shopping plaza.

5. Amid the weeds and trash was my lost kitten.

Answers are on page 143.

Some sentences have more than one subject-verb pair:

I like game shows, but I hate those reality dating shows in which people hurt each others—feelings for money and prizes.

This sentence consists of two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction, but:

I like game shows,


I hate those reality dating shows in which people hurt each others' feelings for money and prizes.

In the first clause, the subject I is performing the verb like. In the second clause, the subject I is

performing the verb hate. Simple.

Although Ailurus fulgens is commonly called the “red panda,” the species is only distantly related to the giant panda and is

actually more closely related to weasels and raccoons.

Ailurus fulgens is the subject of the first part of the sentence. Its verb is is or is called.

The species is the subject of the second part of the sentence. Its verbs are is and is, or is related and

is related.

If you wanted to mark up the subjects and verbs visually (a process you want to be able to do

mentally on the real GMAT), you could do so as follows:

Here subjects are highlighted with curved rectangles and verbs with underlining. It doesn't exactly

matter how you do the mark-ups. If you are making flashcards, though, try to be consistent. Don't mark

every part of speech; focus on whatever's important in the sentence you're dealing with.

By the way, when a sentence has more than one subject-verb pair, it is not terribly important for

GMAT purposes to decide which subject-verb pair is the “main” one. After all, a mistake could exist

anywhere in the sentence.

Pop Quiz!

True or False: In the sentence “Although Italy is famous for pasta, noodles were invented by the

Chinese,” the dependent clause has the subject Italy and the independent clause has the subject the


Answer is on page 133.

Subject/Predicate Wrap-Up

Good work so far! Matching up subjects and verbs is a very important topic on the GMAT. For more

review, you might want to return to the section on Verbs in Chapter 3.

Grade Yourself

How did you do in this section?

A - I totally get this!

B - I'm okay with this. Maybe review later if there's time.

C - I'll make a note to review this later.

Sentence Fragments & Run-on Sentences

A sentence fragment is a group of words that cannot stand alone. It is not a complete thought; it does

not contain an independent clause. Sentence fragments trying to stand alone are always wrong.

All of the following are sentence fragments:

Under the bridge at the edge of town.

While it's lovely that you came to visit.

If it's true that Chandler was responsible for the project's failure.

The Japanese medal given for bravery.

Rushing the field during the football game.

These fragments are not complete sentences and cannot stand alone, but they would all be fine as part

of larger sentences that include independent clauses:

The drug dealer was arrested under the bridge at the edge of town.

While it's lovely that you came to visit, I do think it's time you headed back home.

If it's true that Chandler was responsible for the project's failure, he will probably be fired.

The bukosho, the Japanese medal given for bravery, was instituted in 1944 by Imperial edict.

Rushing the field during the football game is strictly forbidden.

Note that in every example but the last one, the non-underlined part of the sentence can stand alone

without the underlined portion. In the last example, Rushing the field during the football game is

actually the subject of the sentence (specifically, rushing is the simple subject).


To determine whether a word ending in “-ing” is a verb, look for helper verbs. If

the “-ing” stands alone, it is not a verb.

If a group of words lacks a verb, it is a sentence fragment. As you learned in the last section, all good

sentences contain, at minimum, a subject and verb. Note that rushing does not count as a verb; it is a


Just one word can make the difference between being a complete sentence and being a fragment. In

fact, you can make a perfectly good sentence a fragment by adding a word, such as who or since (a

subordinating conjunction).

COMPLETE: My brother broke his foot. INCOMPLETE: My brother who broke his foot.

INCOMPLETE: Since my brother broke his foot.

Notice that the words on the right do not feel like complete thoughts. If someone said either one aloud,

you would wait impatiently for the person to continue speaking and finish his or her thought. The

GMAT will try to make you accept a fragment as a sentence by using lots of long words. Don't be

fooled. Demand complete thoughts!

A run-on sentence consists of two (or more) independent clauses joined without appropriate

punctuation or a conjunction. For instance:

I pronounce “tomato” one way, you pronounce it a completely different way.

This so-called “sentence” consists of two independent clauses joined by only a comma. This specific

kind of run-on sentence is called a comma splice. Run-on sentences, including comma splices, are

always wrong.

To make this a real sentence, you need a conjunction or a semicolon (semicolons are discussed in the

next section):

CORRECT: I pronounce “tomato” one way, while you pronounce it a completely different way.

CORRECT: I pronounce “tomato” one way; you pronounce it a completely different way.

Drill 5.2—Find Fragments and Run-Ons

For each sentence, circle “Complete Sentence,” “Fragment,” or “Run-On.”

1. Scott Fitzgerald, planning, writing, and revising The Great Gatsby from 1922 to 1925 in Great


2. That the charge was true was the worst part. COMPLETE SENTENCE/FRAGMENT/RUN-ON

3. There are only seven of us because the twins couldn't make it. COMPLETE


4. The decorated war general, who stormed the beach in Normandy in 1944.


5. The company sold off its machine parts and chemicals divisions, they hadn't made a profit in the


Answers are on page 143.

Fragments & Run-ons Wrap-Up

Great! You've just covered two major sources of errors on GMAT Sentence Correction. Next you'll

learn about one way to fix mistakes with run-ons—with punctuation.

Grade Yourself

How did you do in this section?

A - I totally get this!

B - I'm okay with this. Maybe review later if there's time.

C - I'll make a note to review this later.


The English language contains many punctuation marks: commas, periods, question marks, quotation

marks, exclamation points, parentheses, hyphens, a couple different kinds of dashes….

Fortunately, there are very few punctuation marks you need to care about for the GMAT. Perhaps

most importantly, no one is going to test you on precise comma placement. (Note: The four periods at

the end of the previous sentence are made up of one ellipsis—three periods in a row—followed by a

regular period to mark the end of a sentence. If you'd put an ellipsis in the middle of a sentence…

you'd have just used three periods.)

On the GMAT, commas can sometimes serve as a clue, helping us understand sentence structure. So

don't ignore commas entirely. But you will never mark an answer choice wrong because of a

misplaced comma. In real life, the rules of comma placement also involve quite a few judgment calls;

while sometimes commas are mandatory, such as the ones in this sentence, in many cases the decision

to use a comma or not is more a matter of style.

Do you have a strong opinion about whether another comma belongs in this sentence?

Please buy eggs, bread and milk.

The comma that many people (including most Americans, as well as the GMAT writers) would put

after bread is called the serial comma or the Oxford comma. Even experts disagree about it. So,

don't worry about it; it's not tested.

Three punctuation marks are discussed next: colons, semicolons, and dashes.

The Colon ( : )

The colon goes before a list or explanation:

CORRECT: This recipe requires only three ingredients: sardines, tomato sauce, and olive oil.

There is an important rule that must be followed here: the part of the sentence before the colon must

be able to stand alone (that is, it must be an independent clause).

INCORRECT: I am going to the store to get: sardines, tomato sauce, and olive oil.


The part of a sentence before a colon must be an independent clause.

I am going to the store to get is not able to stand alone as a complete sentence. The example

sentence is thus incorrect. It can be fixed by simply removing the colon. A good rule is that, if you

don't need any punctuation there at all, a colon is wrong.

Sometimes, a list contains only one item. This is completely fine.

CORRECT: I only like one kind of music: hip-hop.

Finally, colons are not just for going before lists. Colons can also go before explanations, rules, or

examples. Some students freak out when they see a correct sentence such as this one:

CORRECT: I was fired today: my boss caught me trying to steal a laser printer.

This sentence is completely correct. The first part is able to stand alone. The second part (stealing)

explains the first part (getting fired).

Drill 5.3—Examine the Colon

Determine whether the sentence has an error and circle “Correct” or “Incorrect.”

1. I have really enjoyed hearing you lecture about: grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.


2. We will do a soft launch of our new product in two markets: Los Angeles and New York.


3. It can hardly be said that the nation's government was negligent in planning for such a disaster:

there had never been volcanic eruption in the region in the whole of recorded history.


4. The protest was effective, but not without cost: sixteen people died. CORRECT/INCORRECT

5. He said something absolutely outrageous: “Shut up, Mr. President.” CORRECT/INCORRECT

Answers are on page 144.

The Semicolon ( ; )

A semicolon connects two independent clauses. That is, the two parts on either side of the semicolon

must be able to stand alone; they must also be closely related in meaning.

CORRECT: I have to admit that I hate spending Christmas with your parents; they always give me a ridiculous sweater

and expect me to wear it.


The two parts on either side of a semicolon must be able to stand alone and must be

closely related in meaning.

What does it mean to be “closely related in meaning”? Everyone agrees that I like milk; my husband

prefers cola is correct. But what about I like milk; my husband likes bicycling? That sentence looks

very strange, but the question of whether the two parts are “closely related” is related to context. If

someone had just asked the couple, “What are your very favorite things in the world?”, then I like

milk; my husband likes bicycling could indeed be a sensible answer.

When you worry about clauses being closely related in meaning on the GMAT, what you are really

trying to avoid is this:

INCORRECT: The volcano devastated the town; there was still hope.


Do NOT use a semicolon before and or but. Use a semicolon before however and a

comma after. In every case, the parts before and after the semicolon must be able to

stand alone.

This sentence violates the “closely related in meaning” rule because it needs a word such as

although, but, or however. The contrasting meaning of the two clauses demands a contrasting

conjunction. This rule is not specific to sentences containing semicolons. In any sentence, if but,

however, or an equivalent word is needed, it is incorrect to leave it out.

Here is another important rule: do not use a semicolon before and or but. A simple comma will do.

For example:

INCORRECT: He applied to Harvard Business School; but he forgot to send his GMAT score.

INCORRECT: I like beer; and my grandmother likes bourbon.

In both cases, a comma should be used instead. Some people would use nothing at all in the second

case, since the sentence is so short—this is a matter of style.

You do use a semicolon before however. The two parts of the sentence must still be independent

clauses. A comma also comes after however:

CORRECT: Raw oysters are delicious; however, you should be careful where you buy them.

You may have realized that, because colons can go before explanations, either a colon or a semicolon

would work in some sentences. Both of these examples are correct:

Bill was tormented; the Packers lost again.

Bill was tormented: the Packers lost again.

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