Understanding the Subject of a Verb

Knowing your subject
A subject can be any living one or a non-living one

Subject simply means who/what does something; subject may be a living thing or a non-living thing.

One important point is that, a subject must precede its finite verb — meaning it must be followed by a finite verbOpens in new window.

Again, we can locate or trace out the subject by asking a question beginning with “who” or “what”, as Who or What is doing the action in a sentence or being the state of being in a sentence?

Consider the examples:
  • John is practicing the piano.
    (who is practicing the piano? — the answer is John. Here John is the subject of the sentence.)
  • Billy is coming home
    (who is coming home? — the answer is Billy. Here Billy is the subject of the sentence.)
  • The sky seemed hazy.
    (what seemed hazy? the answer is the sky. Here the sky is the subject and it indicate a state of being —which in this case is, being hazy.)

From the observation so far, we have been able to establish what a subject of a sentence is or what it means; now we may flex our knowledge further by putting up a detailed definition of the subject.

Subject | Definition — Subject is a word or a group of words who does something or something is done by him/her or by anything else or about whom or about which something is said.

The subject of a verb names the person or thing about whom or which something is done by the verb. A subject heads a sentence, and requires the verb to agree with it. A noun may be used as a subject of a verb.

Nouns function as subjects of verbs when they answer the question Who or what is doing the action in a sentence or being the state of being in a sentence?

Normally subject precedes its verb but in some exceptional cases subject comes after its finite verb.

Consider as example the following:
  • There lived a hobbit in the Valley of Anduin
  • Here is your book that you lost yesterday.

One more thing to add to your knowledge of subject is that subject can can occur in a variety of grammatical forms:

1.  Subject as noun:

  • Alice accepted the job offer.
  • Kelechi visits his mum every Saturday night.
  • Benjamin performed his favorite cultural dance at the new moon festival
  • Gretchen won the prize.
  • My class teacher gave me an assignment.

2.  Subject as pronoun:

  • She accepted the job offer.
  • He visits his mum every Saturday night
  • They found the missing piece.
  • I was at the new moon festival.
  • We love summer holiday.

3.  Subject as infinitive “to”

  • To cook is a daily activity.
  • To pray first thing in the morning is a good habit.
  • To err is human. To forgive is divine.
  • To gossip is a futile act.
  • To skip English class has a repercussion.

4.  Subject as a gerund noun:

  • Cooking is a daily activity
  • Keeping malice is a bad habit
  • Gossiping is a futile act.
  • coming home is a good experience
  • Playing tennis can be fun.

5.  Subject as a subordinate noun clause:

  • When the thief ran away is not known to me.
  • Where Ukeme works at is unknown to his fiancé.
  • Why Gretchen abandoned him is inconceivable.
  • What the reporter reported is not accurate.
  • Who loves his fellowmen is loved by God.

In all the cited sentences if you observe carefully you will notice the subject is neither a noun, nor a pronoun, nor an infinitive ‘to’ nor a gerund noun, it is a subordinate noun clause. So a subordinate noun clause can be a subject of a sentence.

6.  Subject as a finite verb only:

  • Go.
  • Sit.
  • Dance.
  • Listen.
  • Sing.

In each of these sentences the subject “you” is implied. It appears that somebody is ordering someone to do a certain thing.