Grammar – Subject, Predicate, Details

Does it strike you as weird that we’re going to do a lesson on grammar?  This is the LSAT after all.  It’s a test that assumes some college level education and here I am trying to teach you grammar, which is something I would hope we all learned in grade school.

But, as it turns out, the reason – I’m willing to say the reason – people have such a hard time with the LSAT is because of its grammar.

When you read a sentence on the LSAT, be it a Logical Reasoning question or Reading Comprehension passage, and you say to yourself, “What the hell did I just read? What were those words that I just saw all next to each other?” it’s because you’re not very good at deconstructing difficult grammar.

With easy grammar, it’s an unconscious thing where you follow the rules to parse out the different pieces of a sentence and you know how each piece relates to the others.  With difficult grammar, that doesn't happen.  On the LSAT, there are a lot of sentences with difficult grammar.  That is why knowing your grammar is so important.  It’s the rules of our English language.  It’s how you put pieces together.  How you make sense of them.  What the relationships are between them.

In this curriculum on grammar, we’re going to learn three things.  If you can remember these three things and get into the habit of doing these three things, then you’ll be fine.  Then the hard sentences, the sentences that initially seemed impenetrable, they will become clear to you. These are the three things: subject, predicate, details (sometimes also called "modifiers" and "embedded clauses"). Train your brain to always focus on these three things and you'll be fine.

Let’s look at an example.

Candidates who can vastly outspend all rivals have an unfair advantage in publicizing their platforms.

Not a very hard sentence to understand. I bet everyone reading this sentence has already unconsciously processed those three things: subject, predicate, details.  But, let’s take it step by step and use this easy sentence to illustrate some potentially difficult concepts.

The subject.

What is the subject?  The subject is the thing which the sentence is about.  It’s the center around which everything else turns.  So, if I ask you, “What is this sentence about?” you would tell me that this sentence is about “candidates.”   You’d be right.  This sentence is about candidates.  What does this sentence want to tell us about candidates?  To answer that question, we need to look at the predicate.

The predicate.

What is the predicate?  It’s almost always a verb.  It tells you something about the subject.  Here, we know that the subject is "candidates."  What about the candidate?  Well, they "have" something.  They "have" an "advantage."

I skipped over a lot of the other words in the sentence.  It's important not to get distracted by those words.  First, you have to figure out what the subject and what the predicate are.  All the other words are just details.  It doesn't mean they're not important.  They are very, very important.  It just means that they have a tendency to distract you from understanding the basic structure of the sentence.  So, save the details for last.

The details.

Sometimes the details are contained in "modifiers" like adjectives or adverbs and sometimes they are contained in "embedded clauses."

“Unfair” for example, is a detail.  It modifies "advantage" by telling us what kind of “advantage.”  Okay, “unfair advantage.”  But, in what?  An eating competition?  Nope.  More details: "in publicizing their platforms."

What about “who can vastly outspend all rivals?”  It’s also detail.  Are we talking about the entire universe of all candidates in this sentence?  No.  We’re not.  We’re only talking about a sub-set of all candidates.  What sub-set?  The ones who can vastly outspend all rivals.  So it’s an embedded clause that’s modifying and giving us more details for “candidates.”

So, you can read this sentence in the bare bones form with just the subject and predicate: “Candidates have an advantage.”  Then, you can read it again and fill in all the details: “Candidates who can vastly outspend all rivals have an unfair advantage in publicizing their platforms.”

With an easy sentence like this, you’re subconsciously doing the parsing out of the grammar.  What’s the subject, what’s the predicate, what are the details?  But, when it comes to harder sentences – like the ones in the quizzes that follow and the ones on the LSAT – your sub-conscious might fail you.  You might have to bring this out to the surface and train your brain to be really good at actively doing this.

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