Subject of a sentence

Nature of subject

The subject of a sentence can take the following forms:

(1) noun,                              (2) pronoun,                      

(3) gerund,                          (4) infinitive,

(5) noun phrase                 (6) noun clause.

An important consideration is to recognise whether these are in the singular or the plural.

The noun as subject

Normally the noun has a singular form and a plural form, the latter being obtained by tagging on the suffix “-s” or “-es” (boy/boys,tomato/tomatoes).

There are, however, unusual formations for the plural,                                                           e.g. child/children, knife/knives, ox/oxen.

Furthermore, there are nouns whose singular and plural share the same form (aircraft, boar, carp, deer,sheep).

Then there is the collective noun – for a group of persons or things, likecommittee, crew, electorate, family, jury, team. 

As the subject of a sentence, a collective noun is singular when the group is treated as a whole.

The tribunal is made up of a representative each from the judiciary,

the employers panel, and the employees union.

It is plural when the components of the group are treated as individuals or as parts of the whole.

(the tribunal have been arguing over the case for six hours).

Note, however, that American English tends to treat collective nouns as singular in all situations.

A special type of noun exists, in the form of an adjective which is used in reference to people.

Such nouns are preceded by the definite article “the”,

 Example:

the poor,                the rich,           the lame,

 the wounded,       the dying,        the dead.  

These nouns are plural in nature and they take plural verbs                                              

(the poor livein that particular part of town).

There are a few exceptions.                                                                                        

For example,                                                                                                                    

the accused in a court case may be singular or plural (referring to one person or a few persons being charged);                                                                                                                                  

and the deceased (NOT the dead) at a wake is singular (referring to the subject of the wake)!

Finally, look at the nouns folk and folks.                                                                                      

They look like the singular and the plural of the same word.

However, either one, on its own, is grammatically.

 Folk refers to people in general

 (the folk in this village are very friendly),

while folks relate to one’s close relatives.

 (the folks at home always fuss over the Chinese New Year reunion dinner).

The pronoun as subject

Obviously pronouns, like nouns, can act as subject of a sentence. The demonstrative pronouns and the personal pronouns are somewhat special.                                                                        

The demonstrative pronouns (this and that) do not form the plurals in the usual way, the corresponding plurals being these and those.

Nevertheless, as the subject of a sentence, the singular and the plural govern the verb in the usual way. However, the personal pronouns are a mixed bag.

In the nominative case (when used as the subject of a sentence), the forms of the personal pronouns are:

I          –      (first person singular), 

you     –      (second person singular) 

he, she, it   –  (third person singular)

we    –         (first person plural), 

you     –      (second person plural) and

they      –    (third person plural).

These govern the singular or the plural verb in accordance with the aforementioned cardinal rule – EXCEPT that the first person singular and the second person singular take the plural verb

(walk to school, NOT I walks to school; and

 you do as you wish, NOT

you does as you wishes).

The gerund as subject

A gerund – formed by tagging the inflectional suffix “–ing” to the base form of a verb,

Example:  walking, swimming – is also called a verbal noun, because it can act both as a verb and as a noun.

As a noun, it can function as the subject of a sentence

Example:  Swimming is a good all-round exercise.

The gerund is always singular.

The infinitive as subject

The to-infinitive can act as a substantive, and, as such, it can function as the subject of a sentence,

thus:     to err is human, 

              to forgive divine.

The to-infinitive is invariably singular.

The noun phrase as subject

The subject of a sentence can also be a noun phrase. Normally consisting of a gerund or a to-infinitive plus a few other words, a noun phrase is singular in function.

Examples:

(1) Carrying two buckets of water on the way home is very tiring work.

(2) To be an Olympic swimmer has been his abiding ambition.

The noun clause as subject

Consider the following sentence:

It is well known that she was a champion athlete in her younger days. 

The sentence can be inverted so that the noun clause becomes the subject of the sentence, thus: 

That she was a champion athlete in her younger days is well known.

 (noun clause singularverb singular). 

The verb is plural if two or more noun clauses are combined to form a compound subject.

Example:

That he was a convict AND that he is a philanthropist are two well-known aspects of his life story.

Happy Learning

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