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Parts of a Sentence

Parts of a Sentence

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson introduces the idea of parts of speech and teaches clauses, subjects, and objects.

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Video Transcription

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Welcome back to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? We'll be learning about the parts of a sentence or the components that make up a sentence. These include clauses, subjects, and objects.

These are things we use every time we write. The idea here isn't to introduce anything new or revolutionary, but rather to get a deeper understanding of these three types of building blocks so that next time we use them, we'll be more in control of how, when, and why. Which is always a good thing. Also, understanding the way these three work together to form sentences will help facilitate later lessons on sentence construction.

To start, let's get some of the basic terminology out of the way so we can get to the good stuff. We already mentioned that in order to understand the parts of a sentence, the components that go into making sentences, we'll have to understand three pieces, clause, subject, and object. A clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a predicate. This is often referred to as a grammatical unit, because it's a self-contained chunk of information, one that can be used within a sentence to convey very complex ideas.

Basically, sentences are made out of one or more clauses linked in various ways. And since a clause is itself made up of two parts, let's talk about them. The subject is the focusing noun or acting agent in a sentence. It's the person, place, thing, or idea that's performing whatever verb the sentence contains. Add to your subject a predicate, which means anything that tells us something about the subject, and you've got a clause.

Let's look at a couple examples. This first one is a very simple sentence containing one clause. "Jane smiles." Can you recognize the subject? It should be pretty clear which is the noun, the acting agent. Jane, right? Right. And the rest is the predicate, the part that says something about the subject.

OK. So let's look at another, just to be sure. "The boy and his dog run on the beach." So what's the subject now? The boy? The dog? Both. In order to find the subject in any clause, first, locate the verb and then ask yourself who or what is performing that verb. In this case, both the boy and the dog were running, so the boy and the dog is the subject, making run on the beach the predicate.

Now we can recognize clauses and sentences, but what about more complicated predicates? What happens when the subject is performing an action that itself contains a noun? A noun that's acted upon by the subject of the sentence is called the object. Let's look at this sentence. "John threw the ball." We've got two nouns, so which is the subject and which the object?

We'll perform the same test we did before. Look at the verb and ask what, or in this case, who. It's John performing the action, so he's the subject. And the action he's performing, throwing the ball, tells us that the ball, being the person, place, or thing that's acted upon, is the object. It's not always quite so easy to tell the subject from the object, though. And the object isn't always so obviously an object.

Consider this. "A piece of pepperoni pizza would satisfy me." Though it might not immediately seem correct, in this case, the piece of pepperoni pizza is the subject. And the object, the person, place, or the thing being acted upon, being satisfied in this case, is me. Also keep in mind that while every clause contains a subject, the same isn't always true of objects.

Consider the first class we looked at. What's the object and "Jane smiles"? There isn't one.

OK. Now we've got the basics. Ready to try a couple more? They might be a little trickier than before, but remember, find the clause or clauses, then look for the verbs with them. Pause the video and take as much time as you need to identify the building blocks within each of these sentences. Then turn me back on, and we'll compare notes.

In the first sentence, we can find only one clause, right? So the subject of the sentence, despite coming so late in it, is "I," since "I" is performing the verb, in this case, the do nothing. And the object is "nothing." The noun. What's being done? Nothing. The whole "on my last day" part is actually a prepositional phrase modifying the verb by saying when the nothing was done.

And in the second sentence, we've got two clauses. "There were five donuts," and, "I got there," connected by the subordinating conjunction "when." In the first, the subject is the five donuts, since they are performing the action of being left in the box. The box, pretty obviously, is the object. And for the other clause, it's pretty straightforward. One subject and one object.

And how about the last sentence? Again, there are two clauses separated by the conjunction "and." In the first, we have a compound subject, the "records, tapes, and CD's" all of which "came before the MP3's."

And in the second half, it's a little tricky. Since this is in passive voice, the verb is "be." What's being done? "All of them are being forgotten," so all of them is the subject. And we don't have a directly stated object. If it read that they will be forgotten by us or by you or by everyone, that would be the object. So watch out for passive voice. In addition to slowing down a narrative, it can also cause some tricky grammatical situations.

So what did we learn today? We learned about the parts of a sentence, which meant covering how to define and identify clauses, subjects, and objects. I've Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

Terms to Know

A group of words (i.e. “grammatical unit”) that includes a subject and a predicate.


The item acted upon by the subject in a sentence.

Parts of Speech

The components that make up a sentence.


The focusing noun or acting agent in a sentence.