BigDog's Grammar

Subjects

Some of my favorite subjects are food, trees, shrubs, tall grass, . . . food. But that really has nothing to do with the subject. What we're talking about here is a little different.

sub·ject (sub´-jikt) n.
A word or phrase in a sentence that denotes the doer of the action, the receiver of the action in passive constructions, or that which is described or identified.

That sounds pretty good in American Heritage, but all you really need to know about a subject is: a sentence has got to have one!

To find out which word is the subject of a sentence, just ask yourself two questions:

  1. What's going on (or being described)?
  2. Who or what is doing whatever is going on (or being described)?

If you can answer question 2, you've found the subject.

Let's take a look at some examples:

  1. The butcher saves the scraps for his dog.
  2. The dog devours them quickly.
  3. The butcher was a good man.
  4. The dog was quite satisfied.
  5. Shelties and cocker spaniels are good pets for small children.

Ask yourself the two questions about each of these sentences. Decide what's going on or being described, and then ask yourself who? or what? is doing it or being described. You can see that in numbers 1 and 2 the butcher and the dog are doing something. They are the subjects.

In numbers 3 and 4, the butcher and the dog are being described. Again, they are the subjects. Pretty easy, huh? In number 5, you can see how a sentence may have more than one subject, shelties and cocker spaniels.

If you back up to the dictionary definition, it says something about the subject being the receiver of the action in a passive construction. Consider the next sentence:

The dog was given a bone.

There the dog receives the action--and the bone!--so it's the subject. But don't worry too much about passive constructions right now. We'll get back to them later.

This is awfully simple, but if you can't clearly identify the subject of a sentence, you're going to get into trouble later on when we talk about some of the harder stuff. For more help in identifying subjects, see the section on prepositions. 'Nuff said.

There's a "Self-Test" available on Subjects and Verbs, but you should review Verbs first.

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