I wrote some grammar articles for One Stop Fiction last year, and I’m going to share them with you. This week I’ll start talking about the subject of a sentence.



Most sentences have a verb and a subject. The subject of a sentence is the person, animal, place, thing, or idea that is ‘doing’ or ‘being’ the verb.

There are multiple forms of subjects. Have a look at this table from Wikipedia:

Noun (phrase) or pronoun The large car stopped outside our house.
A gerund (phrase) His constant hammering was annoying.
to-infinitive (phrase) To read is easier than to write.
A full that-clause That he had traveled the world was known to everyone.
A free relative clause Whatever he did was always of interest.
A direct quotation I love you is often heard these days.
Zero (but implied) subject Take out the trash!
An expletive It is raining.
Acataphoric it It was known by everyone that he had traveled the world.

A subject can be a simple subject, a complete subject, or a compound subject.

Simple Subject

Example: I read a book.

In the above example, the verb is read. To find the subject, ask ‘who or what does the reading?’ The person in this sentence who does the reading is I. Therefore, I is the subject.

The subject in this sentence is called a simple subject; there are no modifiers of the subject noun. The subject isn’t always a single word though.

Example: What he wanted to learn about writing was not going to be found in the library.

What he wanted to learn about writing is the subject of this sentence, not just he or writing or what he wanted to learn. Even though it consists of multiple words, it’s a simple subject as there are no modifiers.

Complete Subject

The complete subject contains all the modifiers of a subject.

Example: The hardworking, persevering, tenacious writer finally published her first book.

In the above example, the subject who does the publishing is the hardworking, persevering, tenacious writer. It is the complete subject as all together they describe who does the publishing. The simple subject in this sentence is the writer as hardworking, persevering, tenacious are modifiers of the simple subject.

Compound Subject

A compound subject is a subject consisting of more than one element. This could be pronouns, noun phrases, and noun clauses. The individual subjects are put together with the help of coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

Example: She and I are collaborating on a book. (pronouns)

Example: Imagination, typing skills, and perseverance are needed to be a writer. (noun phrase)

Example: Whoever publishes my book shall not be disappointed. (noun clause)

When using ‘and’ as the coordinating conjunction, the subject can be replaced by ‘they’ so use the verb that goes with ‘they.’

Example: Joe and Jane work together.

The Proximity Rule

When using ‘or,’ ‘neither/nor,’ ‘as well as,’ or ‘alongside,’ the verb used goes with the subject that is closest to the verb. This is called ‘the proximity rule.’

Example: Joe or Jane is writing the story.

Example: The Smiths as well as the Joneses are preparing the picnic.

Example: A novel or a maximum of two short stories are accepted.

Subject-Verb Inversion

Usually, the subject comes before the verb. Sometimes, however, the subject is mentioned after the verb. This is called locative inversion or subject-verb inversion. There are many situations when this is used. Here are a few:

Example: Did you finish reading the book yet? (question)

Example: Here is my version. (expletive)

Example: “Don’t do it!” said the girl. (attributing speech)

Example: More important is this particular reason. (give prominence)

Example: Never in my life was I so frightened. (sentence begins with adverbial phrase/clause or adverb)

Example: I don’t get it, nor does she. (negative construction)

Example: I get it, so does he. (after ‘so’)

Example: Doomed was he. (literary effect)

No Subject

Not all sentences have a subject. Statements, questions, imperatives (orders, commands, warnings, or instructions), and exclamations don’t always have a subject.

Example: Not a lot of writing today. (statement)

Example: Who published your book? (question)

Example: Write that down! (imperative)

Example: Great story! (exclamation)

Prepositional phrases

The subject is never part of a prepositional phrase (that part of a sentence starting with an indication of location; a preposition, and ending in a noun, pronoun, or gerund).

Example: Neither of these books is liked by the students.

You would almost think that these books is the subject of this sentence, but as it is part of the prepositional phrase of these books, the subject is actually neither (as is emphasized by the singular form of the verb).

Linking Verbs

Not all verbs convey an action. Sometimes they describe the subject and are called linking verbs. Am, is, are, was, were, seem, etc. are examples of these. They link the subject to something said about it.

Example: Jane’s book is excellent.

Excellent says something about the book, not Jane, hence book is the subject of this sentence.


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