Talk:Subject (grammar)

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Semantic subject?[edit]

I don't like this, really:

In English, verbs actually have two subjects: the semantic subject, which is the doer of the verb according to meaning, and a syntactical subject, which is what the verb agrees with, and it determines which case a pronoun gets.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, there came to be used the following terms: 1) Psychological Subject as that which is the concern of the message, 2) Grammatical Subject as that of which something is predicated and 3) Logical Subject as doer of the action (see Halliday, Towards a Functional Grammar, 2005 - page 56). So please, do not use "Semantic", because every interpretation of a clause is semantic. I guess that's what the anonymous complainer is talking about. And it is not the "doer of the verb" but the "doer of the action". Daniel Vortisto 00:41, 10 April 2007 (UTC)

In my view, while it's fine to mention the idea of "semantic subject" (as in the opening paragraphs), this confuses subject and agent/undergoer. The problem with the category of "subject" is that it is often circularly defined, or defined as a universal category (many claim Chinese has no such category), or defined disregarding the problems the concept has with ergative-absolutive languages.

The article also needs a little less emphasis on English, too (see WP:CSB).

I'd like to see if anybody has any opinions on this, before I get to the matter myself.

--Pablo D. Flores 13:51, 21 Apr 2005 (UTC)

I'm not a grammarian, so I can't comment on your first point, but about your second point--this is the English Wikipedia; I'd expect the Japanese WP to focus on the subject in Japanese. Meelar (talk) 13:53, Apr 21, 2005 (UTC)
I made a range of changes, including mention of ergative languages as requested above. I agree with Meelar that the English wiki would be written mainly for an English-speeking audience, but in the case of concepts from grammatical theory, it would not do justice to them to restrict their discussion to one language, since grammatical theory by no means is restricted to English. My inclination is that one should exemplify things with English as far as possible, but not exclusively, and certainly not exclude discussion of phenomena that don't occcur in English.--Neither 3 July 2005 17:07 (UTC)
I agree with Neither. The Subject is not a property of the English Grammar, it is a property of Natural Language (Human Adult Language). So, as far as I'm concerned, it would do much good service to the English Speaking Community - half of which having English as a second language - if we could give some examples in other languages too. It won't do you harm and it will be very helpful for the rest of the world. Daniel Vortisto 00:41, 10 April 2007 (UTC)

Introduction (Sentence 3)[edit]

Grammatical function (page was missing). Started. Please see talk:grammatical function Ken H 03:04:27, 2005-08-05 (UTC)


This is wrong: "In many languages, the subject triggers agreement morphology on the verb or auxiliary of a sentence. For example, in English one uses the form has for sentences with a singular subject, and have in sentences with a plural subject. This is a morphosyntactic definition.

   She has left.
   They have left."

What about 'I have left', 'you have left'? These have singular subjects.

—The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs) 12:38, 24 July 2007 (UTC).

That's because in English, verbs (theoretically) agree with their subjects both in number and in person. —RuakhTALK 15:52, 24 July 2007 (UTC)

It doesnt matter —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:20, August 24, 2007 (UTC)

This error has been fixed and the part where this was said was severely modified. Still, someone else should revise it for this is a high hit article. (talk) 06:21, 1 May 2008 (UTC)

Error - Definition of constituent[edit]

The second paragraph reads "The subject has the grammatical function in a sentence of relating its constituent (a noun phrase)".

The constituent is not always a "(noun phrase)". Consider the sentence "Driving drunk is dangerous." This sentence has no noun type. Neither does the variation, "Driving fast while drunk is very irresponsible.". In these two cases the constituents are actually verb phrases.

John Springer —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:45, 29 June 2008 (UTC)

hello my nam is,BRB. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:44, 14 December 2008 (UTC)

Implied Subject[edit]

Can the subject also be implied in a non-imperative mood?

Look forward to meeting you in person.
Need to try harder next time.

-- (talk) 08:57, 23 March 2010 (UTC)

I find the terminus technicus subject for the grammatical subject amazingly inappropriate. After all, the subject is not subordinate to any other element in a sentence, as this name implies, but, to the contrary, the highest-ranking element. It would be helpful to add a paragraph on the etymology of the term subject.

Alexander Senning, —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 08:21, 14 April 2010 (UTC)

Sentence Pattern[edit]

Sentences -- the Steps of Writing

Sentences are the first goal in writing, and although they may be compared to baby steps, they are not just for the young grades. Even adult authors need to know the different ways to craft sentences and to combine sentences.

There are rules that govern sentence building, and amazingly there are actually only a few basic sentence patterns. Master these five sentence types, and you can write anything -- correctly! Independent Clauses and Dependent Clauses Before Sentences Come the Clauses

Sentence writing is built on a foundation of understanding what independent clauses and a dependent clauses are. Most people, even if they can't give a grammatical definition, have a sense of what these two types of clauses are.

Simply put, an independent clause can stand alone. It conveys a complete thought and has both a subject and a verb. A dependent clause, on the other hand, cannot stand alone. It does have a subject and a verb, but it leaves you thinking, "huh?"


Batik is a popular handicraft purchased by tourists. Although I washed my new batik in cold water.

You intuitively know that the first is an independent clause and can stand alone whereas the second one is not complete; the second clause is a dependent one.

So this is step one in teaching sentence writing. Make sure your child can identify independent clauses and dependent clauses. You don't necessarily have to use those exact terms. You can call them complete sentences and fragments. But the instruction on this page will use the terms independent and dependent clauses.

Here is a 7th grade set of worksheets on the topic of clauses. Learning the Patterns

Once you understand independent and dependent clauses, you can learn the rules to putting them together to make sentences. There are five main sentence patterns.

sentence patterns mini poster

Click on the image to download your own PDF mini poster. Print it out to use as reference. Or better yet, use mine as a model and have your child create his own reference poster of the sentence patterns.

Don't overload your child with all five patterns. Take them one a time!

Each sentence pattern will likely take several lessons to master. Be sure that one pattern is firmly understood before introducing another one. As you're studying a particular sentence pattern, use every opportunity to reinforce it. When you see that sentence pattern used in your reading, point it out and analyze it. When your child has writing to do for other academic areas, require him to use the new sentence pattern a set number of times in the assignment. Simple Sentences Sentence Pattern Number One

So you know that if you have an independent clause, it can be a sentence. You capitalize the first word and use punctuation at the end. A simple sentence like that is called, amazingly, a simple sentence. Brilliant name, isn't it?

Simple sentences are important in writing because they are the building blocks. But you don't want each and every sentence in your paragraph or essay to be a simple one. Simple also means foolish, and a paragraph full of simple sentences sounds childish.

Exercise idea -- Write ten simple sentences. Make sure each one is a single independent clause (sentence pattern #1), punctuated and capitalized correctly. And make them interesting because you'll be using these again later.

EXAMPLES -- I am learning Chinese painting. Last Friday I learned to paint a sparrow. The supplies are inexpensive.

Hint for mom -- Give your child some spelling or vocabulary words to make sentences with. Or give a theme to write about. Compound Sentences Sentence Pattern Numbers Two and Three

What if you want to join two independent clauses together? Can that be done? Yes! It can. And there are two main ways.

1. Use a semicolon between the two independent clauses. To use a semicolon, the sentences should be very closely related in meaning. But I hope that you wouldn't try to connect two sentences that weren't related anyway!

2. Use a comma and a coordinating conjunction between the two independent clauses. This rule is so simple, yet people will ruin it by forgetting the comma or by forgetting the coordinating conjunction. You have to have both!

coordinating conjunctions mini posterI call this rule "comma but." You can think of it as "comma butt" -- a terrible disease that infects the bottom. Actually you can use FOR, AND, NOR, OR, YET, or SO as well as BUT.

An easy way to remember these coordinating conjunctions is FANBOYS. Click on the image for a PDF mini poster. (But better yet, have your child create his own FANBOYS poster!)

A sentence that has two independent clauses joined together correctly is called a compound sentence. Try to use some of these in your writing. But don't overdo it! You don't want to have too much of a good thing.

Exercise idea -- Look at the ten simple sentences you wrote earlier. Rewrite them, but this time add a semicolon and another closely related independent clause at the end to form a compound sentence (sentence pattern #2).

EXAMPLES-- I am learning Chinese painting; last Friday I learned to paint a sparrow. The supplies are inexpensive; I paid less than ten dollars for paint, paper, and brushes.

Now take your newly written compound sentences and rewrite them using sentence pattern #3. That means you'll take out the semicolon and add in a comma and one of the FANBOYS. Make sure to use both the comma and the conjunction. And of course, choose a logical conjunction.

EXAMPLES-- I am learning Chinese painting, and last Friday I learned to paint a sparrow. The supplies are inexpensive, so I think this is a good hobby for me.

Hint for mom: Carefully check for semicolons and a lowercase letter after the semicolon. Carefully check for both a comma and a conjunction. If one is missing, it's wrong!

Want some worksheet practice? Here are some PDF exercises: Simple Sentences & Compound Sentences Compound Sentences from ABC Teach Glencoe Practice with Simple and Compound Sentences Commas in Compound Sentences Sentence Bad Guy #1 Mr. Run-on Also Known as a Comma Splice

Evil Mr. Runon Not even brick walls stop Mr. Runon. He keeps running on and on. Drawing by Sprite, my daughter.

What happens when you put two independent clauses together and do not use a semicolon or the "comma but" rule?

You've created a run-on sentence.

And that's a huge writing no-no.

Avoid run-on sentences! Learn how to join independent clauses. Sentence Bad Guy #2 Ms. Fragment

Ms. Fragment loves destroying perfectly good sentences. Drawing by Sprite, my daughter.

If you've got a dependent clause standing alone, it's got a fancy name -- a fragment. And that's a pretty major writing error.

What's the best way to find fragments? Read your draft backwards sentence by sentence. Not word by word, but read the last sentence. Then the next to the last sentence and so on. Usually you will find the fragments this way. The Sentence No-No's

There are two bad guys when it comes to writing sentences -- Mr. Fragment and Ms. Run-on. a%3A3%3A%7Bs%3A7%3A%22options%22%3Bs%3A337%3A%222a795b13c047bf1b5f7e17b130adb8d8%2CFragments%21+Lots+of+them.+Always+make+them.%2Cc88000ad432ff19e3ba8c8e6148ec271%2CRun-ons+are+my+problem+I+just+write+and+write+and+I+don%27t+know+where+to+stop.%2Ca24ee9be59e02c4db5350c43a46b4292%2CI+am+a+perfect+writer.+I+never+make+mistakes.%2C017f6db2588eccf64eae698757658883%2CI%27m+not+sure+which+is+my+main+problem.%22%3Bs%3A6%3A%22period%22%3Bs%3A2%3A%2260%22%3Bs%3A8%3A%22question%22%3Bs%3A39%3A%22Which+do+you+tend+to+create+more+often%3F%22%3B%7D

Which do you tend to create more often? Fragments! Lots of them. Always make them. Run-ons are my problem I just write and write and I don't know where to stop. I am a perfect writer. I never make mistakes. I'm not sure which is my main problem. Vote

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About Commas

Commas are tricky because there are so many uses of them! This lesson is not a comprehensive primer on commas. I'm only sharing ONE of the many ways commas are used. Complex Sentences Sentence Pattern Numbers Four and Five

Now we can start using dependent clauses in our sentences. We know that a dependent clause needs to be attached to something -- specifically to an independent clause. And there are two ways to do that. You can put it before an independent clause or behind one. And the punctuation is different in either case.

The rule is

Independent clause dependent clause. Dependent clause COMMA independent clause.

Yes, that's right. When the dependent clause is at the end of the sentence you don't need a comma.

The words that introduce dependent clauses are called subordinating conjunctions. Print a PDF list here.

after although as as if as long as as much as as soon as as though because before even if even though if if only inasmuch in order that lest now that once provided (that) rather than since so that than that though till unless until when whenever where whereas wherever while

Here is a Handout about Conjunctions, featuring both the coordinating conjunction and the subordinating conjunction.

This kind of sentence with a dependent clause and an independent clause is called a complex sentence. Now that name doesn't really matter a whole lot except that complex sentences imply a good understanding of both your topic and of writing. So you need to use these types of sentences when you write.

Need some practice? Here is the same information recapped plus some sentences to combine using this sentence pattern -- Combining with Subordinating Conjunctions. And here is a middle school level set of four pages about independent and dependent clauses. A set of simple activities for Clauses and Complex Sentences.

printable list of subordinating conjunctionsExercise idea -- Convert your original ten simple sentences into complex sentences by adding a dependent clause. (Having a list of the subordinating conjunctions handy is most helpful.)

First add the dependent clause to the beginning of the sentence (sentence pattern #4). Start with one of the subordinating conjunctions in the list above, create the rest of the dependent clause, don't forget your comma, and then finish it with your independent clause (one of the original simple sentences).

EXAMPLES -- Because I want a creative hobby, I am learning Chinese painting. Even though I'm just starting, last Friday I learned to paint a sparrow. If you shop in a local store, the supplies are inexpensive.

Then using the complex sentences you just made, rewrite them by rearranging them. Now put the dependent clause at the end. Don't forget to leave off the comma this time. These are sentence pattern #5

EXAMPLES -- I am learning Chinese painting because I want a creative hobby. Last Friday I learned to paint a sparrow even though I'm just starting. The supplies are inexpensive if you shop in a local store.

Hint for mom -- Be ruthless about checking for commas when the sentence begins with a dependent clause. If there's no comma, it's wrong! Compound-Complex Sentence Get Creative! Mix Up Patterns One Through Five.

There is actually another sentence pattern and that's a combination of at least two independent clauses with at least one dependent clause. Once you've mastered the first five sentence patterns, this one is fun to get creative with. You follow the same rules and join the clauses together.

Try these worksheets on compound-complex sentences if you really love analyzing sentence parts! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:32, 10 July 2010 (UTC)

Ergative/Absolutive languages[edit]

In an ergative/absolutive language, would you call the absolutive case the subject (and the ergative the object) because it now is the most core argument to the verb? or would you maintain that the single argument of intransitives and the ergative case together are the "subject", while the absolutive case for transitive verbs is still the object? Or do the words subject and object only have meaning on a nominative/accusative environment? Also btw just fyi guys, the page is kinda messy (look at all those broken links!!!) and could do with a LOT of clean up. And a lot less anglocentrism :P. (talk) 09:15, 28 September 2010 (UTC)

Subject, as traditionally used in English, and as the term is used in this article, doesn't necessarily exist in ergative languages. Some split-ergative Indic languages treat ergative arguments like subjects syntactically. Others, like Tibetan, have extremely subtle syntactic tests for subject. It's a category that really does have to be independently identified in every language, and it most certainly isn't an a priori semantic or syntactic category. I'd honestly love to see this article become less anglocentric than it is. Even languages like Russian or German or Spanish have clauses where morphological and syntactic subjects disagree, and I don't see why that information should be excluded, especially since the article as it stands looks like it's from the 40s. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Duke Atreides (talkcontribs) 22:21, 13 November 2010 (UTC)

Basic definition in the introduction[edit]

The introduction, as it stands, doesn't really present any explanation of what exactly a subject is. Instead it is filled with auxiliary, 'more specific' information that isn't especially useful until the basic premise---the definition---has been established. Additionally, for readers like myself who are not in the least bit familiar with linguistics, the current introduction seems overly technical. Perhaps some basic element of the 'definition of subject' section should be included in the introduction. E.g. perhaps one of the very first sentences should be roughly a restructured version of,

The concept of subject is sometimes mixed with that of actor or agent and other times with that of carrier of attributes. --- From 'definition of subject'


Something like, The subject (abbreviated sub or su) is one of the two main constituents of a clause usually identified as the 'actor' or 'agent' of the sentence. Sometimes the subject can be better characterized as the 'carrier of attributes'. — Preceding unsigned comment added by AllCluesKey (talkcontribs) 22:57, 27 December 2012 (UTC)

I agree. The introduction contains a plethora of technical terms and is far too complicated. The introduction to an article should first state in simple non-technical language what it is about and give a very basic definition. The finer technical points should be left until the body of the article. Kanjuzi (talk) 15:48, 11 January 2016 (UTC) - I have now added an introduction in less technical language, summarising the main points, but without otherwise changing anything in the article. Kanjuzi (talk) 18:01, 11 January 2016 (UTC)

English sentences with no subject?[edit]

Is there a subject of the sentence "Cannot download document from Google drive." This type of construction is very common with computer programs and websites. The subject could be thought of as several different things, such as "I (the website), we, it, etc. cannot download..." Document is the direct object. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 08:54, 29 June 2015 (UTC)

Locative inversion?[edit]

This whole paragraph (which is unsourced) is unsatisfactory. For a start, the sentence 'under the bed have been breeding spiders' is not correct English, so we are arguing from a false basis to begin with. Secondly, even supposing the sentence is a correct one, the argument makes no sense. Just because a subject comes at the end of a sentence doesn't make it less of a subject. I have therefore deleted the paragraph. - But there are languages, such as Bantu languages, which really do have a locative subject, e.g. Chichewa m'nyumba mwake muli anthu 'in his house there are people', in which the verb and the adjective mwake 'his' both agree with the locative phrase, not with the word anthu (people). Perhaps something could be said about such languages if it is wished to say something about sentences beginning with a subject. Kanjuzi (talk) 21:38, 14 January 2016 (UTC)

Locative inversion is a widely acknowledged phenomenon of English syntax, e.g. Under the tree slept an old dog, On the shelf were located a number of fat books. These sentences contradict one of the criteria for identifying subjects, namely the pre-verbal position that most subjects occupy in English. The reasoning in the paragraph is sound. I'm reverting back. --Tjo3ya (talk) 00:08, 15 January 2016 (UTC)
It is well known that a sentence can begin with a topic, especially a time or locative phrase, e.g. 'On Tuesday I went to the shops' or 'In London we went to the theatre' or 'John - I can't stand him!' No one would say that these underlined phrases are the subject of the sentence just because they come at the beginning; clearly topics and subjects must be distinguished, which this current version of the paragraph fails to do. The addition of a tag-question is a better criterion, e.g. 'On the shelf were a number of books, weren't there?' seems to show that in that sentence there is a deleted 'there' ('On the shelf [there] were a number of books'); perhaps this deleted 'there' would be a better candidate for the grammatical subject. But I think that to confine the discussion merely to English doesn't really capture a general idea about this kind of sentence. The following article: Freeze, Ray (1992). "Existentials and other locatives". Language, Vol. 68, No. 3 (Sep., 1992), pp. 553-595 discusses such sentences in several languages (including Chichewa) and has something useful to say. Perhaps the ideas in this article could be incorporated into the paragraph. If we look at other languages we can see that the criterion that it comes at the beginning of a clause is not in any way a defining characteristic of what a subject is. Even in English we have sentences such as '"Hello," said John' in which the subject comes at the end. Kanjuzi (talk) 07:04, 15 January 2016 (UTC) - But in any case, could we not have a better example than 'Under the bed have been breeding spiders', which doesn't sound idiomatic. What about 'Round the corner came a large man' or something like that? Kanjuzi (talk) 08:49, 15 January 2016 (UTC)


This article almost exclusively deals with English grammar. I am quite certain that other languages have things called "subjects" too, and that a big part of the article only applies to the English language. A good part also applies to similar languages, but not at all to very different languages such as Mandarin, Arabic... It should either be made clear that this article is about English grammar exclusively, or improve the article so that things specific to English grammar are clearly marked as such in their own sections. (talk) 11:39, 5 October 2016 (UTC)