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Sentence Subjects – How to use them

This page tells how to identify sentence subjects in English, whether they be nouns, pronouns, phrases, clauses, or something else.

What can be the subject of a sentence? A noun:

Jonathan loves chocolates.
Mrs. Smith lives next door to the barber shop.
The yellow dog makes me nervous.
Crocodiles are very dangerous.

A pronoun:

It isn’t time yet.
They went to sleep at 9:00.
Are you coming to the dance?

Words like everyone, everybody, everything, something, anybody, nothing, no one

Everything is ready.
Is everyone here?
Is anybody home?

Quantifiers with nouns/pronounsWithout nouns/pronouns.
Some of the pie was gone.Some (count) are here. Some (non-count) is not.
Some of the pies were gone.All is well. All are watching.
Both of them are in the foyer.Both are correct. (as a group)
Neither of them is in the foyer.Neither is correct. (separately)
None of those people are nice.(all of them are not nice)
None of those people is my friend.(not any individual)


Noun clauses

Whoever left the food on the table is in trouble.
What you say is not important.
How you do it is up to you.

‚ÄúDummy‚ÄĚ subjects

There are five people in the room.
There is some milk in the refrigerator.

Be careful In most cases, the words before the verb are the subject of the sentence.

It is just the three of us.
The three of us are going to be there.

Prepositional phrases cannot be subjects, even if they come at the beginning of a sentence.

On the table was a red hat.
On the table were a red hat, white gloves and a blue scarf.

Some words look plural but are actually singular:

Physics is my favorite subject.
The news was good. Scotch and soda is my favorite drink. (This is very uncommon usage.)
My faithful friend and companion is Terry.

Mass or ‚Äúgroup‚ÄĚ nouns may be singular or plural, depending on focus.

The family is more important than the individual.
The family are going in separate directions.

With either/neither…or/nor, the subject closest to the verb determines agreement.

Neither John nor Jane was the winner.
Either the men or the women are going to take the cake.
Neither Mr. Jones nor his sons have a car.
Neither the boys nor their father has a car.

Some can sometimes be used to indicate an unidentified person.

Some woman was here to see you.
Some guy keeps calling you.

Relative clauses do not affect the main subject-verb relationship; however, S-V agreement within the relative clause may be different, depending on the meaning.

The people who live there are my friends.
The house that the Jacksons built needs to be remodeled.

One of the men who live there is deranged.
He is the only one who lives there.

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