The Subject

I put together this little post to describe what the subject is in a sentence. It’s part of the essential toolkit of grammar knowledge I feel all kids should have. The following parts can be found here: the subject, the predicate, the simple sentence, the compound sentence, the complex sentence, sentence fragments, and run-on sentences.

The vast majority of sentences contain a subject. And I suspect that the majority of teachers would prefer that the vast majority of sentences submitted to them also contain subjects. But first, what is a subject.

The subject is the who or what the sentence is about. Look at these examples and the underlined subjects.

The lovely cardinal sang beautifully in the backyard.

Who sang beautifully? The lovely cardinal did.

If we want to be most accurate The lovely cardinal is the complete subject and cardinal would be the simple predicate. But that’s splitting hairs. All those words, that stuff, that thing before the verb is the subject. And we can identify the complete subject by replacing the whole chunk, The lovely cardinal, with the pronouns he, she, or it.

Without the subject, the sentence doesn’t really make any sense. Try for yourself.

Sang beautifully in the backyard.

Who sang beautifully in the backyard? Oh, that’s right. We’re missing a subject. Try again.

He sang beautifully in the backyard.

Let’s try another.

Spending a weekend lazily at home is glorious.

What’s glorious? Spending a weekend lazily at home is glorious. We can also switch the subject out for a pronoun.

It is glorious.

There are a few tricky sentences students might encounter. Imperative sentences like “Open the window.” have a subject. It’s not stated but it is the person being addressed. Students can grasp this too. When we add the pronoun “You” to make the sentence, “You open the windowthe sentence comes across as very rude.

Another tricky sentence is one like this:

There are many ways to succeed in life.

“There” is a dummy word created to force the sentence to have a subject. It can be tricky for students to master this meaningless word, particularly if their language doesn’t always require an explicit subject.

If you want more practice, Khan Academy has some nice exercises.

There you go. If you appreciated this refresher, then you can move on to the next essential piece of grammar knowledge, the predicate.


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