Grammar: Subject-Predicate

Posted September 17, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

The subject is who or what is doing or being. It is usually stated as part of the sentence, but there are times when the subject is implied. No matter if stated or implied, the sentence will always revolve around it.

The opposite of subject is predicate, which is that part of the sentence that affects the subject. Read more about “Predicate” in its post.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle? If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page and consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

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Credit to: The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar;
General Definition: The noun (person, place, thing, or idea) or pronoun that is doing * or being something (there are exceptions), and usually the noun or pronoun comes first and forces the verb to agree with it. The subject may also be a noun phrase, clause, or prepositional phrase.

The subject is followed by the predicate.

Explore the different kind of sentences in the post on “Sentences“.

Definition of Types: The “real” subject can range from what we expect as the traditional subject to “subjects” from a different point-of-view and are still grammatically essential as the subject.

* A.k.a., doer, agent, theme

Kinds of Subjects:
Simple Subject Definition: Who or what is doing the action.

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  1. Green indicates the subject

The coin sparkled on the sidewalk.

The Martian grabbed a student from the back row.

Complete Subject Definition: Who or what is doing the action plus all of the descriptive words that go with it.

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  1. Green indicates the subject

The bright, copper coin sparkled on the sidewalk.

The big, hungry, green Martian grabbed a student from the back row.

Types of Subjects:
Traditional Subject Definition: The noun is the traditional subject and comes first in the sentence before the predicate. Don’t forget the verb must agree with the noun.

A.k.a., noun

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  1. Green indicates the subject

The ball rolls.

The balls roll.

Is the delivery service back yet with those tablecloths?

Our vacation begins this Saturday.

Can we go to the movies tonight?

Dummy Subject Definition: It or there are frequently used as a replacement subject with a verb, usually a to be verb.

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  1. Green indicates the subject

It is raining.

It took forever to finish.

Can it be done tomorrow?

Yes, it‘s a necessity that we stop at the next gas station.

It‘s handy to keep a few screwdrivers and a pliers on each floor and in the garage.

There is a nursery just down the road.

There was a fabric store here last year; now it’s a liquor store.

There are lots of churches in town.

Grammatical Subject Definition: A noun-phrase that appears before the verb with the verb agreeing with the subject. It encompasses nouns, noun phrases, clause, or prepositional phrase.

A.k.a., formal subject

Noun Subject Definition: See Traditional Subject
Noun Phrase Subject Definition: A phrase that plays the role of a noun along with its articles, adjectives, and adverbs modifying those adjectives. The primary noun or pronoun is the simple subject, a.k.a., a head word. Some grammarians include prepositions that modify the noun.

It’s not much different from a noun subject; it simply includes more words.

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  1. Green indicates the simple subject
  2. White-on-Blue indicates the noun phrase

The fans were doing the wave after Starr made his touchdown.

The roast beef was dry as the desert.

My brothers and I are going to Grandma’s next week.

All the Rocky Horror Picture Show fans were throwing toast at the screen.

Subject Clause Definition: Sometimes it takes an entire clause to give definition to the subject.

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  1. Green indicates the subject clause

What he had already forgotten about computer repair could fill whole volumes.

He is the simple subject but says nothing about how he could fill whole volumes.

He had already forgotten…what?

It needs the entire clause to explain what he had already forgotten…

That you could do such a thing really shocks me.

Three cities in the country’s interior were bombed.

What I need is a good mallet.

Being the curator is a terrifying responsibility.

Prepositional Phrase Clause Definition: Preposition + object/complement that functions as an adverbial or as a post-modifier in a noun phrase.

Caution: There are differing opinions on whether a prepositional phrase can be a subject or not. I think it’s a case of grammarians run amuck, as the subject is actually within the phrase (

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  1. Green indicates the simple subject
  2. Blue indicates the prepositional phrase clause acting as a subject

After nine o’clock would be more convenient.

Neither of these boys wants to try a piece of pineapple pizza.

My dog, along with her seven puppies, has chewed all of the stuffing out of the sofa cushions.

Logical Subject Definition: Usually found in sentences using a passive verb, the sentence will include a grammatical subject which simply means that it is occupying the expected position of a subject in front of the verb. The logical subject is the actual doer of the sentence.

a.k.a., real subject

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  1. Green indicates the grammatical subject
  2. Orange indicates the verb
  3. Blue indicates the logical subject, the doer

The burglar was arrested by the policeman.

It is your mother speaking.

+ verb +
Placing the logical subject into first position, changes its “label”.
The building was designed by my favorite architect. My favorite architect designed the building.
The skirt was made by my sister. My sister made the skirt.
The ceiling was painted by a famous artist. A famous artist painted the ceiling.
The dean’s report was reviewed by the faculty senate. The faculty senate reviewed the dean’s report.
Chemistry is being studied by Tom. Tom is studying chemistry.

  1. Green indicates the grammatical subject
  2. Blue indicates the logical subject
Psychological Subject Definition: What the clause is concerned about.

A.k.a., topic of a clause, theme of a clause, subject-matter of the clause

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  1. Green indicates the subject
  2. Blue indicates the object

That question I cannot answer.

Subject Does Nothing Definition: The epitome of the passive sentence with a subject that does nothing; it is acted upon.

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The game has been cancelled. The game had nothing to do with being cancelled; someone else did that.
The coolant pumps were destroyed by a surge of power. I swear, the coolant pumps were just sitting there, doing nothing, and then wham.
The book was read by the class. The book isn’t doing a thing. The class, however, is reading it.
A nasty review was written by that critic at The Sun. The review may be nasty, but it wasn’t its fault.
The show ended. The show didn’t no anything to end itself.

  1. Green indicates the subject
Subject Exceptions
Verb is Followed by Subject Definition: As writers, we like to change things up and that includes rearranging sentences to create more of an impact.

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There are a number of situations in which the verb is followed by the subject:

  1. Interrogative sentences
  2. Expletive constructions
  3. ( Expletive constructions begin with there is/are or it is.)

  4. Attributing speech
  5. Give prominence or focus to a particular word or phrase by putting the predicate in the initial position
  6. When a sentence begins with an adverb, adverbial phrase, negative adverbial expressions, or adverbial clause
  7. Negative constructions
  8. After so, neither, nor
  9. For emphasis and literary effect
  10. Conditionals with inversions
  11. Replace the if in a conditional sentence with an inversion
  12. After exclamations using here or there


A.k.a., subject-verb inversion


  1. Green indicates the simple subject
  2. Blue indicates the complete subject
  3. Orange indicates the active verb
  4. White-on-Blue indicates the prepositional phrase

In a small house adjacent to our backyard lives a family with ten noisy children.

Around the peach trees are several buzzing bumblebees.

Have you seen Mary?

“We sold the runt to the circus,” explained Mark.

The critical issue here is the purple pail.

Sometimes what teaches you the most is the journey.

Under no circumstances can we accept credit cards.

In no way can he be held responsible.

At no time did she say she would come.

On the doorstep was a bunch of flowers.

Little did I know the killer would strike that night.

Scarcely had we started our meal when the phone rang.

No sooner had I arrived than they all started to argue.

Only after the meeting did I realize the importance of the subject.

Not only was the car slow, it was also very uncomfortable.

Contrary to his description on the Internet, he wasn’t tall, nor did he have any muscles.

George finished his painting; so did Helen.

Neither do I.

Under the weeping willow lies my own heart’s true love.

Had I known it would be so difficult I would never have enrolled.

Here comes the winner!

I opened the door and there stood Michael, all covered in mud.

There‘s no place like home.

Elliptical Subject Definition: The subject of a command, order, or suggestion — you, the person being directed — is usually left out of the sentence and is said to be the understood subject.

For more information, see the post, Elliptical Clause“.

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  1. Strikethrough indicates the dropped, “understood” subject

I’ll See you soon.

You should Call me.

Can it be you?

You Step lively there or I’ll leave you behind!

Before assembling the swingset, you read these instructions carefully.

Imperative Subject Definition: The subject is always an implied you, as an imperative sentence commands someone directly.

  1. Green indicates the subject
  2. Gray text indicates the implied you

You Listen!

You Pick it up. (It is also a dummy subject.)

You Pass the popcorn.

You Shut the door, please.

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