What image comes to your mind when someone uses the word subject in a sentence? If something is the subject of a discussion, debate, talk, conversation, or sentence, it is what that activity or the sentence revolves around. In this post, we will understand what a subject is, how it looks like, and the different types of subjects in English.
What is a subject in English?
A subject of a sentence is a part that the sentence revolves; it is what the sentence focuses on. In linguistics, the subject of a sentence is a person that does an action or a person/thing that about whom/which the sentence gives information about.
1. Jacob calls me in the morning. (Focusing on the subject and what he does)
2. One of my friends called me last night. (Focusing on who called me)
3. I have invited all of them. (Focusing on the subject performing an action)
In these sentences, we are focusing on the doer of the action: subject. Now, let’s study some examples where the subject does not perform an action, where the sentence gives information about the subject by renaming it (using a name or modifying it (using an adjective).
NOTE: The subject can be at the receiving end of an action. This happens in passive voice. In passive voice, we focus on the receiver of the action, not the doer of the action.
Ex – This place has been beautifully decorated.
Ex – Monica was given a secret task to do.
Monica doesn’t do the action of giving here in the sentence; she receives it. The sentence is in the passive voice. (Subject = Monica)
1. Jacob is a dancer. (renaming the subject)
2. My sister is my best friend. (renaming the subject)
3. Jon and Monica were enemies. (renaming the subject)
4. You are talented. (modifying the subject)
5. Mangesh has been very supportive. (modifying the subject)
6. My friends were quite rich back in the day. (modifying the subject)
In the first three examples, we are giving a name to the subject using a noun or a noun equivalent.
- Jacob = a dancer.
- My sister = my best friend
- Jon and Monica = enemies
In the last three examples, we are describing the subject with an adjective.
- You = talented
- Mangesh = very supportive
- My friends = quite rich back in the day
We can also talk about the mental state, emotional state, or possessional state of the subject using stative verbs. Let’s study some examples to understand this.
1. Jon loves talking to kids. (talking about the emotional state of the subject)
2. I understand the gravity of this gravity. (talking about the cognitive state of the subject)
3. We own this house. (talking about the possessional state of the subject)
Here, the subject is not performing a dynamic action; we are just showing the state the subject is in.
Types of subjects in English
There are three types of subjects in English:
- Simple subject
- Compound subject
- Complete subject
A simple subject is a one-word subject. It does not include any modifiers.
- Simran has everything she needs.
- India is the biggest democratic country in the world.
- Jacob loves pancakes.
- The man in the white coat is a doctor.
- The best dancer of this group was Ronny.
NOTE: It does not have to be a single word. It can be a group of words, but it won’t have any modifiers.
- New Delhi is the capital of India.
- The Taj Mahal is one of the seven wonders of the world.
- Justin Bieber is my sister’s favourite singer.
Here, the subject is a proper noun. It does not have any modifiers.
A complete subject is a combination of a simple subject and the words that modify it.
1. The movie was amazing.
Simple subject = movie
Modifier = the
Complete subject = the movie
2. A wise man once said that money is an illusion.
Simple subject = man
Modifiers = a, wise
Complete subject = a wise man
3. Some people just make excuses for their failures.
Simple subject = people
Modifier = some
Complete subject = some people
4. People living in this area are very poor.
Simple subject = people
Modifier = living in this area (present participle phrase)
Complete subject = people living in this area
5. The man in the blue coat teaches History here.
Simple subject = man
Modifiers = the, in the blue coat
Complete subject = the man in the blue coat
A complete subject is formed using a simple subject and one or more modifiers. Here are the ways to form a complete subject:
- Pre-modifier/s + simple subject
- Simple subject + modifier/s
- Pre-modifier/s + simple subject + post-modifier/s
Pre-modifier + simple subject
- My friends love me. (Premodifier = my)
- A school is being built here. (Premodifier = a)
- That car is more expansive than our house. (Premodifier = that)
- His performance was amazing. (Premodifier = his)
- A few people have gathered here. (Premodifier = a few)
- Three women were hit by his car. (Premodifier = three)
Simple subject + post-modifier
- People in my village support each other. (post-modifier = in my village)
- Events of such nature kept happening. (post-modifier = of such nature)
- Girls protesting outside the college are from different parts of the country. (post-modifier = outside the college)
Pre-modifier + simple subject + post-modifier
- The man looking at us looks strange. (premodifier = the, post-modifier = looking at us)
- The goal of this gathering is to raise money for some poor kids. (premodifier = the, post-modifier = of this gathering)
- The movie that we watched the other day opened my eyes in many ways. (premodifier = the, post-modifier = that we watched the other day)
A compound subject is a combination of two or more (generally two) simple subjects or complete subjects. It is joined by a coordinating conjunction, usually with ‘and’, ‘nor’, and ‘or’.
- Mohit and Rohan are best friends.
- Jon and Max came to see me the other day.
- Susan or I can go there and talk to the mangement about this.
- The teachers or the management can solve this problem.
- Some green vegetables, milk, sugar, and flour are needed for this dish.
A compound subject can also be joined with correlative conjunctions such as ‘not only…but also‘, ‘Both…and‘, and ‘neither…not’.
- Neither the doctors nor the patients were happy with the ongoing protests.
- Both the police and the protestors are working together.
- Not only my parents but I am also in support of this rule.
Note: when ‘neither…nor‘ and ‘either…or‘ form a subject, the verb follows what comes after ‘nor’.
- Neither the students nor the teacher is excited about the new rules of the school.
- Either you or she is coming with me.
What can be a subject of a sentence?
The following things can act as the subject of a sentence:
- Noun/Noun phrase
- Noun clause
- Gerund/Gerund phrase
- Infinitive/Infinitive phrase
- Money can buy happiness, some say.
- Democracy is the strongest pillar of this country.
- Courage is what you need to show.
- My money is not your money.
- A dog bit him.
- Some of your friends don’t appreciate what you do.
Click here to master noun phrases in English.
- What I want is love.
- Who called you yesterday was a friend of mine.
- Why he left that job is still a mystery to me.
- I love teaching English.
- Everyone loves Ashish.
- That is a beautiful house.
- Teaching is my passion.
- Smoking can kill you.
- Running keeps me fit.
Click here to master gerunds in English.
- Playing with kids makes me happy.
- Going there alone was a bad decision.
- Starting an NGO for the poor is one of the things I want to do.
Click here to master gerund phrases in English.
- To smoke can kill you.
- To dance is my passion.
NOTE: gerunds are more preferred as a subject.
- Smoking can kill you.
- Dancing is my passion.
Click here to master infinitives in English.
- To open a school is my dream.
- To leave her there alone was very stupid of you.
- To be an army officer is my goal.
Click here to master infinitive phrases in English.
Find the subject in the following sentences and also mention its types:
- Everything I do has a reason.
- You look amazing.
- Some of you are really creative.
- These dogs are my friends.
- A man in a black suit was standing next to your car.
- This guy’s driving is crazy.
- Some brown people living in this area are filthy rich.
- Your approach to this game is strangely good.
- She and I don’t live together now.
- Either your friends or you can come.
1. Simple subject = everything
Complete subject = everything I do
2. Simple subject = you
3. Simple subject = some
Complete subject = some of you
4. Simple subject = dogs
Complete subject = these dogs
5. Simple subject = man
Complete subject = a man in the black suit
6. Simple subject = driving
Complete subject = this guy’s driving
7. Simple subject = people
Complete subject = some brown people living in this area
8. Simple subject = approach
Complete subject = your approach to this game
9. Compound subject = she and I
10. Compound subject = either your friends or you
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