A Comprehensive Guide to English Grammar…In Parts ( Part Two!)

Dr. Dad Bod
6 min readMay 7, 2024
I want to end your grammar headaches

Ok, there were at least a few people who were interested in my guide to English grammar, so I have decided to continue it. In Part One, I went over transitive verbs, direct objects, and subjects.

This time we will kick it forward a bit.

Whenever I am breaking down grammar for students, I make sure that I first clarify that every noun or pronoun in a sentence MUST serve as ONE and ONLY ONE of the following five roles. Which role they are playing is determined by the type of verb the sentence uses and whether or not prepositions are present. So just to review the first two :

  1. Subjects — Subjects are not dependent on verbs because they come before them. For any sentence, find its verb and then ask “who?” or “what” before it. The answer, or answers , will yield the subject or subjects.
  2. Direct objects- MANY, but not all, verbs in English are “action words” . Sometimes the action has a direct impact on another noun or pronoun, and the thing or things that receive the action are called direct objects. To find a direct object, simply find an action verb and ask “Whom?” or “What?” after it.

For example, let’s look at this lady getting a good smack as she deserved after issuing racial taunts at a couple:

After watching the satisfying application of justice to a loudmouth, you might say : The lady smacked the racist Karen.

In this sentence, “smacked” is the verb. So, you ask “WHO smacked?” and the subject is lady and then you ask “smacked WHOM?” and the direct object is Karen. Racist is not included as part of the DO because only nouns can be DOs and racist is an adjective.

3. Predicate Nominatives- Sooo , here is where the fun begins. If you have ever been baffled by a foreign language ( for example, the fact that Spanish has two forms of “to be” and also has two methods of speaking in the past tense- both of which confounded ME), you might be pleased to know that kids learning English elsewhere must be told something like “In English, verbs are action words- except when they’re not”. That’s helpful, but sarcasm aside, it is true.

There are a whole group of verbs that convey NO action and are called “state of being verbs” . They are , am, is, are, was, were, be, being. These particular verbs are tricky in that they don’t seem to be verbs, yet they always are. They also cause an issue because since they convey no action and direct objects must receive an action, they can never have a direct object. BUT, they can have nouns after them that are related to them. The question then is “If those aren’t direct objects, what the hell ARE they?” The answer is that they are called predicate nominatives. Why are they called that? I dunno. They just are. So look at this:

That is skateboarding legend Rodney Mullen doing his thing! Not bad eh?

Well, after watching this you might say “Rodney Mullen is a fantastic skater”.

As with action verbs, to find the subject all you have to do is find the verb and ask “who” before it. So, when you ask “WHO is a fantastic skater?” you find your subject is Rodney Mullen. Now, when you ask “Rodney Mullen is WHAT?” you find that your predicate nominative is “skater”. Pay attention to the type of verb, because it does make a difference in whether you have a direct object, a predicate nominative, or neither.

These sentences all have predicate nominatives which are in caps:

The Commanders are my TEAM

The boys are good STUDENTS

Trump is a crappy PERSON (sorry, couldn’t resist).

If you are a teacher by any chance, I recommend the following: Get a nerf ball and toss it to three students , asking each to name a noun. Once they have done it, ask another kid to create a sentence in which one of the nouns is a subject, and two are direct objects or predicate nominatives- or use two as sub jects but subjects require less reinforcement. Tell them the sentences do NOT have to make sense. For added fun, by a nerf basketball hoop. If the kid who cobbles the sntence together gets it right he/she/they shoot. If the class accumulates a certain amount of points, they get extra credit.

4. Objects of Prepositions- Prepositions are pesky little words that can appear ANYWHERE in a sentence and often change the role of the nouns that follow them. Take a look at this pic:

Essentially anything that the plane can do in relation to the cloud is a preposition. The plane can go in, out, through, by, between, beside, around, next to , outside of, at etc…and that is a small taste of the staggering number of preps in English. All preps SHOULD have an object which you can find by merely asking who or what after the prep itself. Oh, and everything from the prep to its object is considered a prepositional phrase.

So take these sentences:

At lunch, we ate pizza.

Here, “lunch” is the object of the prep “at”.

“At lunch” is a prepositional phrase.

“We” is the subject

“Ate” is the verb

Pizza is the direct object.

Let’s try another:

The food for lunch was pizza.

Here let’s start with the verb “was”. Ask yourself “Can I was?” The answer is no, so this verb cannot have a direct object because it conveys no action, but it does have a predicate nominative- “pizza”.

Now we ask WHAT was pizza? The answer is “food” so food is the subject.

“For” is ALWAYS a preposition, so its object is “lunch”.

Now check THIS out:

Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, we go

“Over” “Through” and “to” are all prepositions with objects of “river”, “woods”, and “house” respectively. So there are three prepositional phrases before we even get to the subject- we- and the verb- go.

5. Indirect Objects- as English teachers we often talk about sentence structure. Sometimes, sentences can be arranged to omit certain prepositional phrases by switching the placement of nouns.

For example, look at this sentence: I sent flowers to my wife.

The verb here is “sent”.

The subject is “I”.

The direct object is “Flowers”

The preposition is “to”

And the object of the preposition is “wife”.

BUT, suppose I wrote the sentence THIS way:

I sent my wife flowers.

Now the verb is still sent and the subject is still I. BUT , when we check for direct objects it seems there are two possibilities. If I asked “ I sent Whom?” the direct object seems to be “wife”, whereas if I ask “ I sent WHAT?” the direct object appears to be “flowers”. In cases like these you must ask yourself “What actually received the action of being SENT?” and the answer is flowers ( Damn it!). From there, we work backwards and ask “ I sent flowers to whom?” and wife is the indirect object.

So, indirect objects answer “to whom?” “to what?” or “for whom?” or “for what?” about the direct object in a sentence where there appears to be two direct objects.

Let’s try another: She gave me a present

The verb here is gave, so the subject is “she”.

The verb is “gave” so the direct object could be either “me” or “present”.

She actually GAVE the present, so present is the direct object, and we ask “to whom” to find the indirect object of “me”.

Take aways from Parts One and TWO:

  • A sentence only needs a subject and a verb, so the shortest sentence possible is two words long.
  • Any noun OR pronoun in any sentence will fulfill ONE and ONLY one of the following roles: subject, direct object, predicate nominative, object of a preposition, or indirect object.
  • The role of a noun in a sentence is dependent on the type of verb in the sentence AND/OR the prepositions in a sentence!

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Dr. Dad Bod

I am a husband, father, teacher, and soccer coach, and aspiring writer residing in Northern Virginia. More than anything, I love having fun and pushing myself!