Sentence Subjects

Definition

The subject of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea that is doing or being something. The easiest way to find the subject is to first find the verb. When you find the action of the sentence, ask the question, “Who or what is doing the action?” The answer to that question is the subject. Consider the following example:

  • The computers in the library must be replaced.

The verb is must be replaced. Ask yourself, “What must be replaced”?  The answer is, the computers. So, computers is your subject.

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Simple and Complete Subjects

A simple subject is the subject of a sentence stripped of modifiers. The simple subject of the following sentence is issue:

  • The really important issue of the conference, stripped of all other considerations, is the morality of the nation.

A complete subject of a sentence is the simple subject plus all the words that modify the simple subject. The complete subject of the example above is the really important issue of the conference.

Sometimes a simple subject can be more than one word, even an entire clause. Consider the following sentence:

  • What he had already forgotten about computer repair could fill whole volumes.

In this sentence, the simple subject is not computer repair, nor is it what he had forgotten, nor is it he. Ask: “What is it that ‘could fill whole volumes?’” Your answer should be that the entire italicized clause is the simple subject.

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Compound Subjects

Sometimes a sentence will have compound subjects, which means there are two or more nouns joined by the conjunction and acting as the subject. Consider the examples below:

  • Mickey and Esmerelda watched the movie.
  • Croutons, cherry tomatoes, and shredded carrots are my favourite salad toppings.

Mickey and Esmerelda work as the subject in the first sentence, while croutons, cherry tomatoes, and shredded carrots function as the subjects of the second sentence.

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There as the Subject

The word there can never be the subject of your sentence. It stands in for other words in your sentence that are your true subjects. For clarity, avoid beginning sentences with there and instead try to place your subjects in front of your verbs. Consider the following examples.

Awkward

There is a squirrel in the oak tree.

Improvement

A squirrel is in the oak tree.

In the above example, there is masquerading as the subject but the real subject is squirrel (What is in the oak tree?). To reduce wordiness, simply state your subject and omit there. Similarly:

Awkward

There is a bag of old clothes in the garage.

Improvement

A bag of old clothes is in the garage.

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You as the Subject

In English, the subject of a command, order, or suggestion — you, the person being directed — is usually left out of the sentence and is said to be the understood subject:

  • [You] Step lively there or I’ll leave you behind!
  • Before assembling the swingset, [you] read these instructions carefully.

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Exercises

These exercises are not strictly limited to the topic of sentence subjects. You will be asked questions about the entire Constructing Sentences section, so you may wish to explore other topics before completing this exercise.

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