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Subjects, Verbs, and Objects

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As seen in our review of the basic parts of speech, you don't need a thorough knowledge of formal English grammar to become a good writer. However, knowing a few basic grammatical terms should help you understand some of the principles of good writing. Here you will learn how to identify and use subjects, verbs, and objects--which together form the basic sentence unit.

Subjects and Verbs

A sentence is commonly defined as "a complete unit of thought." Normally, a sentence expresses a relationship, conveys a command, voices a question, or describes someone or something. It begins with a capital letter and ends with a period, question mark, or exclamation mark.

The basic parts of a sentence are the subject and the verb. The subject is usually a noun--a word that names a person, place, or thing. The predicate (or verb) usually follows the subject and identifies an action or a state of being. See if you can identify the subject and the predicate in each of the following short sentences:

  • The hawk soars.
  • The widows weep.
  • My daughter is a wrestler.
  • The children are tired.
In each of these sentences, the subject is a noun: hawk, widows, daughter, and children. The verbs in the first two sentences--soars, weep--show action and answer the question, "What does the subject do?" The verbs in the last two sentences--is, are--are called linking verbs because they link the subject with a word that renames it (wrestler) or describes it (tired).

For additional practice in recognizing these key elements in a sentence, see Exercises in Identifying Subjects and Verbs.

Pronouns

Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns in a sentence. In the second sentence below, the pronoun she stands for Merdine:

  • Merdine danced on the roof of the barn during the thunderstorm.
  • She was waving an American flag.
As the second sentence shows, a pronoun (like a noun) may serve as the subject of a sentence. The common subject pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, we, and they.

Objects

In addition to serving as subjects, nouns may also function as objects in sentences. Instead of performing the action, as subjects usually do, objects receive the action and usually follow the verb. See if you can identify the objects in the short sentences below:

  • The girls hurled stones.
  • The professor swigged coffee.
  • Gus dropped the aquarium.
The objects--stones, coffee, aquarium--all answer the question what: What was hurled? What was swigged? What was dropped?

As the following sentences demonstrate, pronouns may also serve as objects:

  • Before eating the brownie, Nancy sniffed it.
  • When I finally found my brother, I kissed him.
The common object pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, and them.

The Basic Sentence Unit

You should now be able to identify the main parts of the basic sentence unit: SUBJECT plus VERB, or SUBJECT plus VERB plus OBJECT. Remember that the subject names what the sentence is about, the verb tells what the subject does or is, and the object receives the action of the verb. Although many other structures can be added to this basic unit, the pattern of SUBJECT plus VERB (or SUBJECT plus VERB plus OBJECT) can be found in even the longest and most complicated structures.

Practice in Identifying Subjects, Verbs, and Objects

For each of the following sentences, identify the word in bold as a subject, a verb, or an object. When you're done, compare your answers with those at the end of the exercise.

  1. Mr. Buck donated a wishbone to the Museum of Natural History.
  2. After the final song, the drummer hurled his sticks at the crowd.
  3. Gus smashed the electric guitar with a sledge hammer.
  4. Felix stunned the giraffe with a radar gun.
  5. Very slowly, Pandora opened the box.
  6. Very slowly, Pandora opened the box.
  7. Very slowly, Pandora opened the box.
  8. Thomas gave his moonpie to Bengie.
  9. After breakfast, Vera drove to the mission with Ted.
  10. Even though it rarely rains here, Professor Legree carries his umbrella wherever he goes.
Answers
1. verb; 2. subject; 3. object; 4. object; 5. subject; 6. verb; 7. object; 8. verb; 9. subject; 10. verb.

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