The subject is the person, place, thing or idea that the sentence is about. Or, in the case of a sentence with more than one clause, it is the person, place, thing or idea that the clause is about.
Typically, a subject is followed by a verb.
[In the following examples, the subject is bold and the verb is underlined.]
- Pamela sang a song at her sister’s wedding.
To determine the subject, ask who or what the sentence is about.
- Before visiting the library, Stephen did considerable research on-line.
To determine the subject, ask who or what is doing or being.
- California continues to lead the nation in population growth.
Ask yourself what the topic of the sentence is.
- Once a center of activity, the theater has fallen into disrepair.
To determine the subject, ignore phrases that are not connected to the subject and verb. The subject exists because it has a verb.
- Griffin’s soccer ball rolled into the street.
Don’t get mislead by modifiers. The BALL is the thing doing something here, not GRIFFIN or SOCCER.
- The flavor of parsnips is unappealing to many small children.
Be careful not to choose objects of prepositions as subjects. Objects cannot be subjects. This sentence is about FLAVOR not about PARSNIPS.
- Freedom should not be taken for granted.
To determine the subject, ask what or who is engaged in the action of the verb. What should not be taken for granted? FREEDOM.
- At its best, Democracy allows every citizen access to the political process.
Ask yourself what the topic of the sentence is.
There can be more than one subject in a sentence; more than one subject in a single independent clause
- Frank and Elise decided to attend the lecture.
To determine the subject, identify the verb and determine who or what is “doing” that verb.
- After a fierce competition, civility and sportsmanship remained intact.
Introductory phrases will not include a subject. Ignore them when trying to identify the subject.
- For many employees, neither vacation nor sick leave is available.
There is no action in this sentence, so ask what thing IS NOT AVAILABLE
- Running and swimming remain the favorite activities of most participants.
Don’t be fooled into thinking these are verbs. Here they are activities. To be verbs, they must have a subject and a helping verb. e.g. The participants ARE RUNNING.
More than one independent clause
- Frank decided to attend the lecture, but Elise chose to watch the game.
As with simple sentences, ask who is doing the action for each clause.
- Until sundown, the temperature will be comfortable, and the bugs will not bother us.
Unless WILL is used as a noun—e.g. “He wrote his will”—it is most likely a helping verb. A helping verb assists a main verb, and they both exist to serve a subject. Use WILL to lead you back to the subject. Who or what WILL?
- Because of the hike in interest rates, spending has slowed, but savings will increase.
HAS, HAVE and HAD are either going to be helping verbs or main verbs, so ask yourself who or what HAS done something.
- Frightened by the explosion, the birds stopped singing, and the deer raninto the woods.
What is this sentence about? Who did something? In this case, two subjects did two different things.
A subordinate clause and independent clause
- Although speeding seems exciting, speeders run the risk of tickets as well as injury.
With subordinate clauses, it can be misleading to ask what the sentence is about. Instead, determine the verbs and connect them with their respective subjects.
- Scott tried to take away the basketball so Heather workedon her ball handling skills.
With sentences containing both independent and dependent clauses, look for the subject and verbs in each clause rather than the subject of the entire sentence.
- Because cheating on taxes is illegal, Ephram isalways careful to be honest.
Remember that the subject does not have to be a physical object or a person, it can be an action.
- If the dog starts barking, please put him in the house.
With any clause that uses the imperative tense (an order), the subject (YOU) is usually implied. Therefore, in the second clause, the implied YOU is the subject.
An independent clause with a restrictive or nonrestrictive dependent clause.
NOTE: The subject of this type of a dependent clause is a relative pronoun; it relates to the noun preceding it.
[In the following examples, the subject and verb of the independent clause are bold and the subject and verb of the dependent clause are underlined.)
- The boy who crashed his bike into Mark’s garage broke his nose.
In this type of sentence, the main clause surrounds the dependent clause. THE BOY BROKE HIS NOSE is the main clause.
- Near the end of the picnic, the dog that took the steaks off of the table returnedfor dessert.
The subject of the dependent clause in this type of sentence is a relative pronoun that relates to the noun preceding it. THAT TOOK THE STEAKS is the dependent clause. THAT is the subject of the clause.
- How did you meet the man who offered you the job?
In question form, the subject and verb do not follow the standard subject, verb, complement order. YOU is the subject of the independent clause. WHO is the subject of the dependent clause.
- Have you considered hiring Josh, who received several awards for excellence in design last year?
The subject of the dependent clause in this type of sentence may or may not be separated from the main clause by a comma.