How to Find the Subject of a Sentence

The Basic Parts of a Sentence

subjects of sentences
In the sentence "The girl and her mother are laughing," the subject is The girl and her mother. (B. Blue/Getty Images)

In English grammar, a subject is one of the two main parts of a sentence. (The other main part is the predicate.)

The subject is sometimes called the naming part of a sentence or clause. The subject usually appears before the predicate to show (a) what the sentence is about, or (b) who or what performs the action.

As show below, the subject is commonly a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase.

Types of Subjects

A subject may be one word or several words.

(1) The subject may be just a single word: a noun or a pronoun. In this first example, the proper noun Felix is the subject of the sentence:

Felix laughed.

In the next example, the personal pronoun he is the subject:

He laughed.

(2) The subject may be a noun phrase--that is, a word group made up of a head noun and any modifiers, determiners (such as the, a, her), and/or complements. In this example, the subject is The first person in line:

The first person in line spoke to the television reporter.

(3) Two (or more) nouns, pronouns, or noun phrases may be linked by and to make a compound subject. In this example, the compound subject is Winnie and her sister:

Winnie and her sister will sing at the recital this evening.

A Note About Subjects in Questions and Commands

In a declarative sentence, as we've seen, the subject usually appears before the predicate:

Bobo will return soon.

In an interrogative sentence, however, the subject usually appears after a helping verb (such as will) and before the main verb (such as return):

Will Bobo return soon?

Finally, in an imperative sentence, the implied subject you is said to be "understood":

[You] Come back here.

Examples of Subjects

In each of the following sentences, the subject is in italics.

  1. Time flies.
  2. We will try.
  3. The Johnsons have returned.
  4. Dead men tell no tales.
  5. Our school cafeteria always smelled like stale cheese and dirty socks.
  1. The children in the first row received badges.
  2. The birds and the bees are flying in the trees.
  3. My little dog and my old cat play hide-and-seek in the garage.
  4. Could you carry some of these books?
  5. [You] Go home now.
     

Practice in Identifying Subjects

Using the examples in this article as a guide, identify the subjects in the following sentences. When you're done, compare your answers with those on page two.

  1. Grace cried.
     
  2. They will come.
     
  3. The teachers are tired.
     
  4. The teachers and the students are tired.
     
  5. His new toy is already broken.
     
  6. The woman in the back of the room asked a question.
     
  7. Will you play with me?
     
  8. My brother and his best friend are forming a band.
     
  9. Please be quiet.
     
  10. The old man at the head of the line was holding a Darth Vader lightsaber.

     

To learn more about subjects, see our glossary entry for subject along with the following articles:

Below (in bold) are the answers to the exercise on page one: Practice in Identifying Subjects
 

  1. Grace cried.
     
  2. They will come.
     
  3. The teachers are tired.
     
  4. The teachers and the students are tired.
     
  5. His new toy is already broken.
     
  6. The woman in the back of the room asked a question.
     
  7. Will you play with me?
     
  8. My brother and his best friend are forming a band.
     
  9. [You] Please be quiet.
     
  10. The old man at the head of the line was holding a child by each hand.