General Writing and Grammar Help/use of "both"


Dear Ted,

Can you please help me to parse the word “both” in the following sentence:

The books “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” were both written by Homer.

As “both” is used and “placed” in the above sentence  -  Is “both” a predicate adjective or a pronoun?

Thank you very much.



Dear Rich:

The subject is "books."
"The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" -- combined as an appositive defining "books."
The verb is "were written"
"by Homer" is a prepositional phrase
BOTH -- a pronoun that refers to "books" -- Since "both" appears in the predicate part of the sentence BUT refers back to the subject of the sentence, it is called a predicate nominative.

**** The reason that this sentence is difficult to parse is that the sentence is very poorly written.  

I have studied the sentence and interpret "Homer" as being the most important word.  Yet, in this sentence, "Homer" is the object of the preposition "by," which is tacked on the end of the sentence, as if it were an afterthought.

Here's my revision:

Homer wrote the books "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey."

My sentence is in the ACTIVE voice [wrote], which is almost always preferred over the PASSIVE voice [were written].


Q. Please explain how to diagram a sentence.

A. First spread the sentence out on a clean, flat surface, such as an ironing board. Then, using a sharp pencil or X-Acto knife, locate the "predicate," which indicates where the action has taken place and is usually located directly behind the gills. For example, in the sentence: "LaMont never would of bit a forest ranger," the action probably took place in a forest. Thus your diagram would be shaped like a little tree with branches sticking out of it to indicate the locations of the various particles of speech, such as your gerunds, proverbs, adjutants, etc.

— Dave Barry  

General Writing and Grammar Help

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Ted Nesbitt


I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.


I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

©2017 All rights reserved.