Subject

Definition: The subject of a sentence is the noun, pronoun or noun phrase that precedes and governs the main verb. The subject is the part of the sentence that performs an action or which is associated with the action.

For example:

  • He is a really nice guy.
    * "He" is the subject of the sentence, controlling the verb and the complement.
  • My dog attacked the burglar.
    * "My dog" is the subject, controlling the verb and the rest of the sentence.
  • David plays the piano
    * The subject "David" performs the action of "playing the piano".
  • The police interviewed all the witnesses.
    * The subject the police performs the action of interviewing all the witnesses.

To determine the subject of a sentence, first isolate the verb and then make a question by placing "who?" or "what?" before it. Having identified the Subject, we can see that the remainder of the sentence tells us what the Subject does or did. We refer to this string as the "predicate" of the sentence.

For example:

  • Who plays the piano?
    => "David" ( = Subject)
    => "plays the piano" ( = predicate) tells us what David does.
  • Who interviewed all the witnesses?
    => "The police" (= Subject)
    => "interviewed all the witnesses" ( = predicate) tell us what the police did.

Subjects can either be "simple", "compound" or "complex"

Simple Subject
Composed of a single pronoun, noun or noun phrase.

Complex Subject
A complex subject consists of a noun phrase and any words, phrases, or clauses that modify it.

For example:

  • The man who had followed us inside walked over to the telephone.
    => central noun: man
    => complex subject: the man who had followed us inside
  • The superior performance of La Traviata pleased the wealthy audience.
    => central noun: performance
    => complex subject: the superior performance of La Traviata

Compound Subject
A compound subject consists of two or more noun phrases (and their modifiers if any) joined together with a coordinating conjunction.

For example:

  • The man and the woman walked over to the telephone.
    => The compound subject here is the whole phrase, "the man and the woman."
  • Neither the superior performance of La Traviata nor the excellent wine at intermission pleased the wealthy audience.
    => Again, the whole phrase, "neither the superior performance of La Traviata nor the excellent wine at intermission," is the subject. The phrase answers the question, "What pleased the wealthy audience?"




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