The subject of a sentence
is the person, place, thing, or idea that is doing or being
something. You can find the subject of a sentence if you can find the
Ask the question, "Who or what 'verbs' or 'verbed'?" and the answer to that
question is the subject. For instance, in the sentence "The computers in the
Learning Center must be replaced," the verb is "must be replaced." What
must be replaced? The computers. So the subject is "computers." 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.
Sometimes, though, a simple subject can be more than one word,
even an entire clause. In the following sentence —
- What he had already forgotten about computer repair
could fill whole volumes,
—the simple subject is not "computer repair,"
nor is it "what he had forgotten," nor is it "he." Ask what it is that "could
fill whole volumes." Your answer should be that the entire underlined
clause is the simple 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 swing set, [you] read these
For purposes of sentence analysis, the do-er or the initiator
of action in a sentence is referred to as the agent of the sentence.
In an active sentence, the subject is the agent:
- The Johnsons added a double garage to their house.
- The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter.
sentence, the agent is not the subject. In fact, sometimes a passive
sentence will not contain an agent.
- The dean's report was reviewed by the faculty senate.
- Three cities in the country's interior were bombed.
The normal English order of subject-verb-completer is disturbed
only occasionally but under several circumstances. Burchfield* lists about
ten situations in which the subject will come after the verb. The most
important of these are as follows (subjects in blue):
- In questions (routinely):
you eaten breakfast yet?" "Are you ready?"
expletive constructions: "There
were four basic causes of the Civil War." "Here
- In attributing speech (occasionally, but optionally):
cried Farmer Brown."
- To give prominence or focus to a particular word or phrase
by putting the predicate in the initial position:
"Even more important
is the chapter dealing with
- When a sentence begins with an adverb or an adverbial
phrase or clause: "Seldom
has so much
been owed by so many to so few."
- In negative constructions:
"I don't believe a word she
says, nor does my brother.
to think of it, neither does her father."
- After so: "I believe her; so
does my brother."
- For emphasis and literary effect:
"Into the jaws of Death,
/ Into the mouth of Hell / Rode the six
There are other uses of inversion, but most of those
result in a strained or literary effect.