In any correct sentence in English, you’ll find at least two things: a subject and a verb. Those elements make up a sentence, which is defined as a group of words that expresses a complete thought and includes a subject and a verb.
A subject is who or what the sentence is about— a noun, pronoun, or sometimes multiple nouns or pronouns. In a sentence, the subject is directly connected to the verb, which is a word that defines actions or indicates a state of being.
Some subjects are physical things that a reader might be able to picture concretely.
EXAMPLEThe dog is small.
But some subjects are less concrete, and an undefined idea might very well be the subject of a sentence.
EXAMPLEHappiness is an important part of psychological well-being.
Just about anything can end up as the subject of a sentence. You can even have a compound subject, which is when more than one noun or pronoun serves as a subject.
EXAMPLEIn the sentence "The dog and cat are friends," both the dog and cat are the subjects.
You might even have a sentence where the subject is a singular indefinite pronoun.
EXAMPLEIn the sentence "Nobody knows how the dog and cat became friends," "nobody" is the subject.
You can also have a sentence with plural indefinite pronouns.
EXAMPLEBoth of them like to nap.
When you have a singular indefinite pronoun as the sentence subject, the verb will also always be in the singular form, such as "knows" in the second sentence above. Likewise, plural indefinite pronouns will have plural verbs, such as "like" in the third sentence above.
When you’re looking for the verb in a sentence, you’ll find that it’s often right after the noun. But this isn’t true all the time, so you’ll have to get familiar with verbs in order to spot them.
You’ve already learned about action verbs, or words that describe movement and physical being. You probably know tons of these, such as "run" and "dance."
But verbs can also be linking words, and those kinds of verbs don’t describe movement in the same way. Linking verbs connect the subject to information about the subject, and do not convey action.
EXAMPLEIn the sentence "Jonah is happy about his birthday present," "Jonah" is the subject, and "is" is the linking verb connecting Jonah to further information about him.
What about the relationship between these two parts of a sentence? You know that the verb is the word that describes an action or a state of being, and you know that the subject is the actor of that verb, or the thing doing the action or existing in the state of being.
Now think about how these actors and actions come together in sentences. There are a few general patterns of sentences that you’re likely to see and use:
But this isn’t always the way sentences look. Sometimes, the verb comes first.
EXAMPLEOn the boy's plate were (verb) the pancakes (subject).
Also, sometimes the subject or verb will be compound, which means that there will be more than one subject or more than one verb in their own clause together.
EXAMPLEMy mom and I (subject) are going (verb) to the store.
Even if the order isn’t what you expect, remember that to define a subject or subjects, always ask who or what is doing the action.
Now you can apply this to some more complicated sentences.
The boy and Susan were both excited to eat the pancakes. The pancakes that Susan and the boy ate at the restaurant were delicious. Susan and the boy, when they thought about it later in the day, were glad they had eaten breakfast together.
In the first sentence, the boy and Susan are both doing the action— eating pancakes. Thus, the first sentence is an example of a compound subject. The more complicated a sentence, the further apart the verb and subject might be, like in the second sentence. There might even be a dependent clause between the subject and verb, like in the third sentence.