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Definition:

The part of a sentence or clause that commonly indicates (a) what it is about, or (b) who or what performs the action (that is, the agent).

The subject is typically a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun. In a declarative sentence, the subject usually appears before the verb ("Gus never smiles"). In an interrogative sentence, the subject usually follows the first part of a verb ("Does Gus ever smile?").

As discussed below, there are exceptions to this traditional definition of a subject.

See also:

Etymology:

From the Latin, "to throw."

How to Identify the Subject:

"The clearest way of spotting the subject of a sentence is to turn the sentence into a yes-no question (by this we mean a question which can be answered with either 'yes' or 'no'). In English, questions are formed by reversing the order between the subject and the first verb which follows it. Look at the following example:

He can keep a Tamagotchi alive for more than a week.
The appropriate question here if we want a 'yes' or 'no' as an answer is:
Can he keep a Tamagotchi alive for more than a week?
Here 'he' and 'can' have changed places and that means that 'he' must be the subject in the first sentence. . . .

"If there is no suitable verb in the original sentence, then use dummy do, and the subject is the constituent which occurs between do and the original verb."
(Kersti Börjars and Kate Burridge, Introducing English Grammar, 2nd ed. Hodder, 2010)

Examples and Observations:

  • "My master made me this collar. He is a good and smart master, and he made me this collar so that I may speak."
    (Dug in Up, 2009)


  • "Baseball is dull only to dull minds."
    (Red Barber)


  • "Fettucini alfredo is macaroni and cheese for adults."
    (Mitch Hedberg)


  • "You can't try to do things; you simply must do them."
    (Ray Bradbury)


  • "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."
    (Albert Einstein)


  • "This is not a book that should be tossed lightly aside. It should be hurled with great force.
    (Dorothy Parker)


  • "The traditional definition of subject as referring to the 'doer of an action' (or agent), though it is adequate for central or typical cases, will not work for all cases. For example, in passive sentences, such as John was attacked, the subject is John, but John is certainly not the 'doer' of the attacking. Again, not all sentences, even those with transitive verbs, express any action. Examples are This book cost fifty francs and I loathe relativism. But such sentences have always traditionally been held to have subjects (in these cases, this book and I)."
    (James R. Hurford, Grammar: A Student's Guide. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994)


  • "The orderly came back in a few minutes with a rifle and five cartridges, and meanwhile some Burmans had arrived and told us that the elephant was in the paddy fields below, only a few hundred yards away."
    (George Orwell, "Shooting an Elephant")


  • "Up to the farmhouse to dinner through the teeming, dusty field, the road under our sneakers was only a two-track road."
    (E.B. White, "Once More to the Lake")


  • "But by far the strongest cohesive force in the paragraph is the recurrence of the same grammatical subject, or its equivalent, from sentence to sentence."
    (Wilma Ebbitt, et al., Writer's Guide and Index to English, 1978)


  • "Grammar is the logic of speech, even as logic is the grammar of reason."
    (Richard Chenevix Trench)


  • "To do the thing properly, with any hope of ending up with a genuine duplicate of a single person, you really have no choice. You must clone them all."
    (Lewis Thomas, "The Tucson Zoo")


  • "Every sentence has a truth waiting at the end of it, and the writer learns how to know it when he finally gets there."
    (Don DeLillo)


  • "[Robert] Frost's 'Dust of Snow' justifies its form by devoting one stanza to the grammatical subject and the other to the predicate:
    The way a crow
    Shook down on me
    The dust of snow
    From a hemlock tree


    Has given my heart
    A change of mood
    And saved some part
    Of a day I had rued."
    (Paul Fussell, Poetic Meter and Poetic Form, rev. ed. Random House, 1979)
Pronunciation: SUB-jekt
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