Grammar What Are Simple Subjects? |
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What Are Simple Subjects?

One interesting thing about grammar is that we may often use it correctly without even realizing how or why. In other words, we might know the best way to apply a word or a phrase even if we can’t explain it.

As natural to us as the air that we breathe, simple subjects appear in our writing and speech every day. In this discussion, we’ll define what they are and review a few examples.

What Are Simple Subjects in English Grammar?

A simple subject is a noun word or group of noun words that tell you what a sentence is about. It is the who or what that is performing the action in a sentence (as communicated by a verb). The simple subject also is not modified: It is the sentence subject standing alone.

Consider the following sentences:

Wolves howl in the night.

Roaming wolves howl in the night.

Both sentences have wolves as the simple subject. You’ll also note that the first sentence subject is unmodified. The second sentence subject is modified by roaming, which is not part of the simple subject.

Let’s look at another example:

Tyrell and Priscilla heard the wolves howl in the night.

This sentence has two simple subjects (also referred to as a compound subject). Tyrell and Priscilla both performed the action of hearing the wolves howl.

The simple subject can include as many unmodified nouns as needed for the sentence:

Tyrell, Ellie, and Priscilla heard the wolves howl in the night.

This sentence has three simple subjects: Tyrell, Ellie, and Priscilla.

A simple subject also can be a compound noun (e.g., living room, high school, post office):

The living room is at the back of the house.

The high school is opening for the fall semester in the first week of September.

The post office offers priority shipping.

In each of these sentences, the simple subject is formed by two words that create a combined singular unit. The first word (living, high, post) is not a modifier but rather a component of the compound.

Why Do Simple Subjects Matter for Grammar?

Simple subjects are important because they help us determine whether verbs should be singular or plural. A singular simple subject will have a singular verb. A plural simple subject will have a plural verb.

Examples

The high school is opening for the fall semester in the first week of September.

The high schools are opening for the fall semester in the first week of September.

In the first sentence, the simple subject is the singular high school, which takes the singular present progressive verb is opening. In the second sentence, the simple subject is the plural high schools, which takes the plural present progressive verb are opening.

Examples

Tyrell hears the wolves howl in the night.

Tyrell and Priscilla hear the wolves howl in the night.

In the first sentence, the simple subject is the singular Tyrell, which takes the singular verb hears. In the second sentence, the simple subjects are Tyrell and Priscilla, which take the plural verb hear.

Pop Quiz

Identify the simple subjects in each sentence.

1. The fluffy cat jumped up onto the counter.

2. Those old guitars look like they can still make some good noise.

3. Beatrice and Monica said we can start the card game at seven p.m.

4. Private, corporal, and sergeant are enlisted ranks in the Army.

5. The red sled and the blue shoe both belong to Bobby.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. The fluffy cat jumped up onto the counter.

2. Those old guitars look like they can still make some good noise.

3. Beatrice and Monica said we can start the card game at seven p.m.

4. Private, corporal, and sergeant are enlisted ranks in the Army.

5. The red sled and the blue shoe both belong to Bobby.

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