Subjects

In English grammar, the subject of a clause is the noun referring to the person or thing that is doing the action of the verb. We will learn all about it here.

Subjects in the English Grammar

What Is The Subject?

If we want to define 'subject' in the simplest way possible, we could say that:

The subject is the person or thing doing something.

The subject is the doer of the action.

Types of Subjects

We have three main types of subjects. They are:

  1. simple subjects
  2. compound subjects
  3. complete subjects

Let's start with the simplest form:

1. Simple Subjects

By simple subject, we mean one simple individual word (sometimes a word plus a definite or an indefinite article) that acts as a subject. It can be:

  1. subject personal pronouns
  2. masculine or feminine proper names
  3. collective nouns

We are watching TV.

Here the subject is the pronoun 'we'.

He's running to catch up to the bus.

'He' is the subject of the sentence. The subject is doing something, in this case, running.

Lucy sleeps at 9 P.M.

Mathew is seven years old.

The team failed to score.

Subject Personal Pronouns

As you saw in the example above, the subject of a sentence can be a personal pronoun.

Personal pronouns can be either subjects or objects in a sentence. In the table below, you can see the list of subject personal pronouns. (To learn all about them, you can read the lesson personal pronouns.)

English Subject Pronouns

Subject Pronoun
First singular I
Second singular You
Third singular (M) He
Third singular (F) She
Third singular (N) It
First plural We
Second plural You
Third plural They

2. Compound Subjects

The second type of subject is a compound subject. As their names suggest, these subjects are comprised of two or more nouns or pronouns. Take a look at these examples:

Jake and Sally began singing 'Happy Birthday' to me.

Here we have two separate nouns 'Jake' and 'Sally' that are joined together with 'and'.

Jake and his sister began singing 'Happy Birthday' to me.

As you can see, sometimes we have a mix of nouns and pronouns, but they're all still the subject of our sentence.

3. Complete Subjects

Complete Subjects are noun phrases or noun clauses. A noun phrases is a group of words that together act like a noun. Look at the examples:

An eight-year-old boy who won the contest dedicated the reward to his mother.

The boy standing next to Max is Michelle's new boyfriend.

Be Careful!

Keep in mind that you can't pick the head of the noun phrase and single out one word (e.g. the boy in the example above) and say it's our subject. Because the subject is not just any boy; it's 'the boy standing next to Max.'

What Does a Subject Do?

A subject in a sentence can do different things:

  • 1. The subject performs an action

Malcom is playing at the beach.

  • 2. The subject is described and identified → the verb of the sentence is a linking verb

My sister is very stubborn. She is the one with red hair.

  • 3. The subject has an action done to it → the sentence is in passive voice

My sister was taken to the hospital.

Pinpointing The Subject

One simple way to find the subject in a sentence is to find the verb first. When you identify the verb, you identify the subject.

  • In an declarative sentence, the subject usually appears before the verb

The bear eats honey.

  • In an interrogative sentence, the subject usually comes after the auxiliary and before the main verb

Does the bear eat honey?

  • In an imperative sentence, the subject is normally implied and therefore omitted

Eat! → (You) eat!

Tricky Subjects!

1. Inverted Sentences

Sometimes for emphasis or for literary purposes, people change the positions of parts of the sentence. In this case, the subject is usually after the verb.

Behind the picture was the safety box with all the money.

Find the verb first and ask yourself 'what was?' The safety box was. The safety box with all the money was behind the picture.

2. Sentences with Adverb prepositional phrases

If a sentence begins with an adverbial phrase or adverbs like 'here' or 'there', they are never the subject.

After the interview, I went to a bar to relax.

The adverbial phrase is part of the predicate, even if it is at the beginning of the sentence.

Here are the books you wanted.

You can rearrange the sentence to its normal order: 'The books you wanted are here'. In this case, 'here' is an adverb.

Review

Subjects are usually used at the beginning of the sentences to show who does the action or sometimes the subject is something which the whole sentence is about, and it actually does nothing. There are three types of subjects as follows:

subjects simple compound complete
examples you/ Alex/ a girl/ the boy my sister and I/ Nina and her boyfriend A five-year-old boy/ The woman in charge of the disaster

Remember that it is not forced to have a subject at the beginning of a sentence. For example in imperatives most of the time the subject (you) is omitted. Sometimes subjects are in the middle of a sentence as it follows another clause which is put at the beginning.

Look at the subject pronouns below:

subjective pronouns suitable to be verb
first person singular I am
second person singular You are
third person singular He is
third person singular She is
third person singular It is
first person plural We are
second person plural You are
third person plural They are

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