Subjects in English

Hello, and welcome! Today we’re talking about subjects.

Now, the subject of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea that is doing or being.

The subject is sometimes called the “naming part” of a sentence or clause. It shows what the sentence is about, or who or what is performing an action in the sentence.

The subject is most often a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase.

It’s easier to find the subject of a sentence if you first find the verb. Remember, a verb is any word used to describe an action, a state, or an occurrence. Ask yourself, who or what “verbed” in this sentence? The answer to that question is the subject.

Let’s try it with this sentence:

Rachel ate her breakfast.

The verb in this sentence is the word ate—it describes an action that Rachel took. So let’s ask our question: who or what ate? Rachel did! Rachel is the subject of this sentence.

A simple subject is the subject of a sentence without all its modifiers. Modifying words help tell us more about the nouns and verbs and sometimes even adverbs in a sentence, but they can make it difficult to find the subject. If you pull these away, you find your simple subject. Let’s look at an example:

The main reason, after all was said and done, wasn’t enough to keep her there.

There are quite a few things going on in this sentence, but if we strip away the modifying phrase “after all was said and done,” we see the following sentence:

The main reason wasn’t enough to keep her there.

You may be tempted to assume the subject is her, since sometimes people are subjects, but let’s ask our question: what wasn’t enough? Not her, but the main reason. Reason, here, is the simple subject. Sometimes a simple subject can be a phrase rather than a single word; that’s when it gets a bit more complicated. Take this sentence, for example:

What he didn’t know about life in the city could fill whole volumes.

“What he didn’t know about life in the city” is the simple subject. You can’t strip it down any more than that. What could fill whole volumes? “What he didn’t know,” “life in the city,” and “he” are all incomplete explanations. They must be taken together as a complete phrase.

Now that we have a good grasp on simple subjects, let’s talk about compound subjects. Take the following sentence:

Jack and Jill went up the hill.

Who went up the hill? Jack? Well, yes, but that’s not all. Jill did as well. They are both the subjects of the sentence. A compound subject is when two or more nouns are joined together to act as a subject. Think about this sentence:

Rain, snow, and ice made driving impossible.

Rain, snow, and ice are all three the compound subjects of the sentence.

Now, let’s have a little fun. What do you think is the subject of the following sentence?

Come here now!

Is it come? Is it here? Is it now? Is it non-existent? No on all counts. If grammar wasn’t confusing enough, now I’m asking you to evaluate invisible words! But don’t worry, we can find the subject by asking our question. Who or what needs to come here now? The answer is “you.” If a mother is calling her son, she could say, “you come here now.” If you’re calling your friend, you could say, “you come here now.”

This is called an understood subject. Often, the subject of a command, order, or suggestion—you—is left out of the sentence.

Strong and well-placed subjects make for strong writing. Avoid beginning sentences with the word there—it’s a filler for other words in the sentence that are the true subjects. Look here:

There are shoes on my floor.

In this sentence, there looks like it’s the subject, but in reality, the word shoes already fills that role. There only adds words and makes the meaning less clear. We can clean the sentence up this way:

Shoes are on my floor.

Also, avoid mixing up the order of your subject and verb phrase in the sentence. Take a look at this example:

The plumber is Ben.

This sentence would mean the same thing if you said, “Ben is the plumber,” but as it is the subject is inverted and confusing. In general, it’s best to write with a clear subject followed by the verb phrase that describes what the subject is doing.

And don’t forget: If you’re having trouble finding the subject in a sentence, just find the verb and find out who or what is connected with that verb.

That’s all for now. Thanks for watching, and I’ll catch you next time!



by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: August 16, 2021