We learned last week that every sentence is about something. That probably seems pretty obvious, but sometimes it's important to state the obvious. There's a name for the part of a sentence that expresses what it's all about. We call it the complete subject. For example:

  • My brother Henry ate my hot dog.

This sentence says something about my brother Henry. That means that my brother Henry is the complete subject of the sentence. Get it?

Here are some more examples of complete subjects. They are in boldface:

  • The computer crashed.
  • Seven seagulls sang their sour songs at the shore.
  • Dirty and disappointed, my brother Tom and his friend Bill walked home after the game.
  • There, in the center of the museum, rested the fabulous Ventura diamond.

We can also reduce the complete subject of a sentence to a single word. We call this the simple subject. In the first sentence above, the simple subject is Henry.

  • My mean brother ate my hot dog.

The simple subject in the sentence above, brother, is a noun — a word that names a person, place or thing. Only nouns and pronouns--words that take the place of nouns--can be simple subjects. When we refer to the subject of a sentence, we usually mean the simple subject--the single noun or pronoun that the sentence is about. 

Compound Subjects

Sometimes there is more than one noun or pronoun that a sentence is about. This is what we call a compound subject. For example:

  • Businessmen and artists don’t always see the world the same way.

This sentence isn’t just about businessmen or artists. It is about both of them equally. Here are some other examples of compound subjects:

  • Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
  • Two jets and a helicopter raced across the sky.
  • Edna and I are on the same field hockey team.

 Identifying Subjects

Sometimes it is important to be able to identify the simple subject of a sentence. Trust me; it just is. The easiest way to do this is first to find the main verb in the sentence — the word that expresses the primary action. Ask “Who____?”  or “What____?," filling in the blank with the verb. The answer is normally the subject.

For example, take the sentence:

  • The pirate blindfolded the captain.

What word expresses the action of the sentence? Blindfolded. That’s the verb. Now that you've found the verb, ask, Who blindfolded?

The answer, according to the sentence, is the pirate. So, pirate is the simple subject of the sentence. Here’s another example:

  • Garbage and debris covered the floor of the student’s bedroom.

Q: What covered? 

A: garbage and debris

Clearly, garbage and debris make up the compound subject of this sentence. Simple, right? 

Stuff to remember:

  • The complete subject of a sentence is all the words that tell what the sentence is about.
  • The simple subject is the single noun or pronoun that the sentence is about.
  • If a sentence is about more than one noun or pronoun, it is called a compound subject.
  • To find the simple subject of a sentence, find the main verb and ask “Who____?”  or “What____?”, filling in the blank with the verb. The answer will be the simple subject of the sentence.