Finding the Subject of a Sentence

Elizabeth O'Brien

Hello! I'm Elizabeth O'Brien, and my goal is to get you jazzed about grammar. 

Finding the Subject of a Sentence

Finding the subject of a sentence can sometimes be difficult, but there are two tricks that can help.  

By the way, do you remember that subjects tell us whom or what a sentence is about? Good!

Let's get started by looking at two example sentences. Can you find the subjects of the following sentences? 

1.The students from the classrooms at the end of the hall were very noisy. 

2. Each of the students in my class studies diligently.

Before I tell you the right answers, I'm going to teach you the two tips and show you how they apply to these sentences. Here we go!

Tip #1

The subject of a sentence will never be in a prepositional phrase.

Of course, this tip is only helpful if you know what prepositional phrases are! Prepositional phrases are groups of words that start with a preposition and end with a noun or pronoun.

into the store (into = preposition, store = noun)

around the red house (around = preposition, house = noun)

up the tree (up = preposition, tree = noun)

The moral of the story here is that subjects will never be in prepositional phrases. 

Tip #2

Cross out prepositional phrases before you look for a sentence's subject. 

Let's get back to our example sentences.

The students from the classrooms at the end of the hall were very noisy. 

You might look at that sentence and have brain-overload. You know that subjects are usually nouns, but there are four nouns in that sentence. 

The students from the classrooms at the end of the hall were very noisy. 

Eek! What are you going to do?

Since prepositional phrases contain nouns and pronouns, when we cross them out, we eliminate many "potential subjects" because we're eliminating many nouns or pronouns. 

The students from the classrooms at the end of the hall were very noisy.

Now it's much easier to see that students is the subject of the sentence.

Sentence diagram with three prepositional phrases

Now let's look at the next sentence.

Each of the students in my class studies diligently.

Can you identify the subject? This sentence has three contenders.

Each of the students in my class studies diligently.

You might be fooled into thinking that students is the subject of this sentence. After all, the sentence is about the students, right?

Well, sort of. The subject of the sentence is actually each

If you know your prepositions, you know that of the students is a prepositional phrase, and subjects will never be in prepositional phrases. 

Each of the students in my class studies diligently.

Now it's much easier to see that each is the subject of the sentence.

Sentence diagram with two prepositional phrases

*Note that identifying the correct subject will help you choose the correct form of the verb. If the subject were students, the verb would be study. 

I hope that you enjoyed these tips!

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Elizabeth O'Brien from Grammar Revolution

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September 26, 2019

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