In the following sentence:

John McAdam and Thomas Teleford made important advances in road construction during the early 1800s.

Why is "made advances" not the verb? Are predicate and verb the same thing?

  • 3
    You are perhaps confused by the fact that in another context advances might be a 3d person singular verb. Here, however, it is a plural noun, the object of the verb made, meaning innovations or improvements. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 11 '12 at 1:25
  • Sad the question was closed within an hour so. However, I'd suggest you explain why you thought "made advances" should be the verb, in the first place. Then, how you discovered it wasn't. And, finally, why you are not convinced by what you found. It is clear that you found somewhere that made advances is not the verb here, and that you are looking for a better explanation. Improve your question and take a chance at re-opening it. – Kris Dec 11 '12 at 5:16
  • If you start following our sister site ELL, it would be helpful to you. area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/41665/… – Kris Dec 11 '12 at 5:23

The reason it's not a verb is as Robusto says.

The reason you're confused is because you're using "Verb" in two senses.

  • Robusto's answer deals with the correct use of the technical term "Verb", which is syntactic.
  • You, on the other hand, appear to be using "Verb" to mean "Predicate", which is logical.

The distinction is a vital one.

Syntax is automatic, like the -s on loves in She loves me not, or the it in She considers it rude to honk. It doesn't have much to do with meaning at all, and native speakers aren't aware of it unless they've been taught something about it (which rarely happens to Anglophone speakers). It's natural, biological, evolved, universal, a part of human language. It's ancient.

Logic, by contrast, is mostly conscious, and involves meaning; indeed, logic is to language as mathematics is to physics -- you can't understand the details without it. It's technological, learned, taught, like literacy or photography or producing musicals. They're both cultural, of course. It's a product of only the last 2 millennia, and even then only occasionally.

In the sentence you cite, the real predicate is

  • made important advances in

It is a two-place predicate, and it has two arguments

  • the conjoined noun phrase John McAdam and Thomas Teleford, the Subject argument
  • the noun phrase road construction, the Direct Object argument.

It is true that most predicates are verbs, and that verbs are always predicates or parts of predicates, but adjectives and nouns can be predicates too, and so can other constituents, like phrases. As here.

But made important advances in still has a syntactic structure, even if it's been frozen, and that structure says that the "Verb" is made.

That's all, really.

  • 7
    +1 for your usual expert, thoroughgoing exercise. And whoever had the gall to downvote this: shame on you. – Robusto Dec 11 '12 at 2:32
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    I have seen the word predicate used in several different ways. Sometimes a distinction is even made between predicate, predication, and another term I forgot. (It may have had something to do with combinations of verb phrase, complements, and adjuncts/satellites.) I was wondering what criteria you used to delimit the predicate in your answer. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Dec 12 '12 at 2:54
  • @Cerberus: Pretty much what I use in my Logic Study Guide. – John Lawler Dec 12 '12 at 4:00
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    @JohnLawler: So you truly mean predicates as used in predicate logic. I believe the conversion from natural sentence to logical proposition is always and necessarily somewhat arbitrary, depending on personal choice (which is not a problem). But it does make me wonder what you based your conversion on. For example, why not pick made advances as your predicate? Or made? Or made advances during? Do you base that on focality/topicality, or what? – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Dec 12 '12 at 5:59
  • Anything can be a predicate in Predicate Logic. See the exercises in the logic study guide. This is what logic is for. Logic, as I think I said somewhere, is to language as math is to physics -- you can't understand the structures in a scientific way without it. But math and logic are conscious human creations, whereas natural language is evolved. So we find lots of logical phenomena that have application to human language, because people speaking human languages invented them. I.e, there is only a very tenuous "conversion" possible. Semantics underspecifies. – John Lawler Dec 12 '12 at 17:12

The verb in that sentence is made. The direct object is advances (or advances in road construction, taken as a phrase).

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