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Understanding the Subject of a Sentence: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated on July 17, 2023Grammar

If you’ve ever wondered what makes a sentence a sentence, here’s your answer: a subject and a predicate.

The subject of a sentence is the noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that the sentence is about. Usually, the subject performs the action, but sometimes, the sentence describes either the subject or an action done to it.

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What are the basic parts of a sentence?

At its most basic structure, every sentence contains:

  • A subject
  • A predicate

The subject of a sentence is the person, place, concept, or thing the sentence is about. The predicate is the action the subject is performing or having performed on them; it can also be a description of them. The predicate always contains a verb. Sometimes, a sentence contains only a subject and a verb. Here is an example:

Time flies.

In this sentence, time is the subject and flies, a verb, is the entire predicate.

In most sentences, the predicate contains more than just one verb. Sentences often contain direct objects, which are the nouns, pronouns, or noun phrases impacted by the subject’s action. Take a look at the direct object bolded in this example:

The fox dug a hole in the ground.

Many sentences also contain indirect objects. These are nouns, pronouns, and noun phrases that are not the direct action receivers but are still affected by the action in the sentence. Take a look at the indirect object in the same example sentence as above:

The fox dug a hole in the ground.

A sentence can also contain a subject complement. This is a phrase that renames the subject. Here is an example:

Joachim is a skilled tennis player.

What is the subject of a sentence?

In most cases, the subject of a sentence is who or what is performing the action. There are instances where the subject is the recipient of the action, which we’ll discuss in greater detail later on. However, whether the subject is the one performing or receiving the action, it’s important to remember that the subject of a sentence is always a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun.

Every complete sentence has a subject. Without a subject, you don’t have a sentence—you have a phrase. A clause, which is defined as a group of words that contains a subject and a verb that have a relationship, can be a complete sentence, but it isn’t necessarily one.

What are the different types of subjects?

Simple subject

A simple subject is a single word. Here are a few examples of simple subjects in a sentence:

  • A rat chewed through a wire.
  • He will be returning in September.
  • As always, Kanako was able to help.

Complete subject

Sometimes, the subject of a sentence contains one or more modifiers. When this is the case, it’s known as a complete subject. Here are two examples of sentences that contain complete subjects:

  • Our team’s highest-scoring player was traded to another team.
  • Brynn’s white dog wanted to play fetch.

Compound subject

When a sentence contains two or more subjects, they’re known as a compound subject. Take a look at these example sentences that contain compound subjects:

  • Mali and her brother threw their mother a surprise birthday party.
  • Our gray SUV and our old yellow sedan are both in the shop.

How are subjects used in a sentence?

Although the subject of a sentence is often assumed to be the “doer of the action,” this isn’t always the case. Take a look at this sentence:

My paycheck was deposited last Friday.

In this sentence, my paycheck is the subject. However, it’s not doing the action—the action, being deposited, is being done to it. In many sentences in the passive voice, the subject is the recipient of the action. The reason why it isn’t instead the direct object of the sentence is because it’s the only noun in the sentence.

It’s possible to have a sentence without a direct object, but it’s not possible to have a sentence without a subject. To make the paycheck the direct object of this sentence, you would need to introduce another noun as the subject. The rewritten sentence would read:

My employer deposited my paycheck last Friday.

Now, your employer is the subject of the sentence.

A subject can also be described in a sentence. Here is an example:

The painting was technically brilliant but not very imaginative.

Although this sentence contains a verb, was, the painting isn’t actually doing an action. However, it’s still the subject of the sentence because, again, it’s the only noun present and is the sentence’s focal point.

In many sentences, though, the subject is the noun performing the action. Here is an example of this type of sentence:

We studied for the midterm exam together.

The importance of subject-verb agreement

In any sentence, it’s important that the verb is conjugated according to whether the subject is singular or plural and whether it’s written in first, second, or third person. This is known as subject-verb agreement. Compare these two sentences to see subject-verb agreement in action:

  • Every Monday, I go to the grocery store.
  • Every Monday, Jacob goes to the grocery store.

Subject-verb agreement, along with other aspects of grammar, is important because it makes writing clear. It helps readers understand your message by reducing the likelihood that they’ll misunderstand or misinterpret it.

Subject examples

  • Next Spring, I will plant asparagus.
  • Mahmoud is writing his third novel.
  • Our friends arrived too late to get into the concert venue.
  • A snake slithered out of its enclosure at the zoo.
  • My cat was taken to the veterinarian.
  • The most talented drummer in the marching band was a short girl with red hair.
  • Our favorite meal is spaghetti carbonara.

Subject FAQs

What is the subject of a sentence?

The subject of a sentence is the noun, noun phrase, or pronoun that serves as the sentence’s focal point. It may refer to the figure performing an action, having an action performed on it, or being described.

What are the different kinds of subjects?

Simple: one single word

Complete: single word with modifiers

Complex: two or more subjects

What is subject-verb agreement?

Subject-verb agreement is the rule that in a sentence, the verb is conjugated according to the number of subjects and whether they’re written in the first, second, or third person.

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