Subject

Grammar Glossary for Spanish Students

chicken-mole-enchiladas.jpg
Me gustan las enchiladas. (I like enchiladas.). Photo by Regan76; licensed via Creative Commons.

Definition: Traditionally, the part of the sentence that performs the action of the main verb of a sentence.

Sometimes, "subject" is used to refer specifically to the noun or pronoun that performs the action of the verb. In Spanish (rarely in English except in commands), it is common also for the subject to be implied rather than directly stated. In the following sentences, the subject is in boldface:

  • El hombre canta bien. The man sings well. (The noun hombre is performing the action of the verb canta.)
  • Los jugadores no están con nosotros. The players aren't with us. (The noun jugadores is performing the action of the verb están.)
  • Ellos no están con nosotros. They aren't with us. (The subject is a pronoun.)
  • No están con nosotros. They aren't with us. (The subject here in the Spanish sentence is implied to be ellos but isn't directly stated. In translation, the pronoun here must be stated in English.)

The subject of a verb can be contrasted with its object, which receives the action of the verb rather than performs it.

The subject of the sentence sometimes is considered to include not just the noun, but all the words in the phrase that accompanies the noun. By this definition, "el hombre" in the first sample sentence can be considered the subject of the sentence. By this definition, the subject of a sentence can get quite complex.

For example, in the sentence "La chica que va al teatro no me conoce" (the girl who is going to the theater doesn't know me), "la chica que va al teatro" can be considered the full subject. By this definition, the subject of a sentence can be contrasted with the predicate of a sentence, which includes the verb and often the object of the verb and related words.

In Spanish, the subject and verb (or predicate) match in number. In other words, a singular subject must be accompanied by a verb that is conjugated in a singular form, and a plural subject takes a plural verb.

Although the subject is usually thought of as the performer of a sentence's action, in passive sentences this may not be the case. For example, in the sentence "su tío fue arrestado" (her uncle was arrested), tío is the subject of the sentence even though some unspecified person or persons are performing the verbs action.

In Spanish, as in English, the subject typically comes before the verb except in questions. However, in Spanish, it is not extraordinary for the verb to come before the subject even in direct statements. For example, in the sentence "me amaron mis padres" (my parents loved me), padres (parents) is the subject of the verb amaron (loved).

Also known as: Sujeto in Spanish.

Examples: The subject is in boldface in the following sentences:

  • Un planeta es un cuerpo celeste que orbita alrededor de una estrella. A planet is a heavenly body that orbits around a star.
  • No comprendo la revuelta árabe. I don't understand the Arab revolt. (The subject in the Spanish sentence is implied.)
  • Yo y podemos hacer todo. You and I can do everything. (This is the use of a compound subject.)
  • Me gustan las enchiladas. I like enchiladas. (In the Spanish sentence, the subject here comes after the verb. Note that in translation, the subject in English represents a different word.)
  • Hoy empieza la revolución. The revolution begins today. (The subject comes after the verb. Although hoy is sometimes a noun, here it is an adverb.)
  • Skype fue comprado por Microsoft. Skype was bought by Microsoft. (In this passive sentence, Skype is the subject even though it is not performing the verb's action.)
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Erichsen, Gerald. "Subject." ThoughtCo, Mar. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/subject-basics-spanish-3079425. Erichsen, Gerald. (2017, March 2). Subject. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/subject-basics-spanish-3079425 Erichsen, Gerald. "Subject." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/subject-basics-spanish-3079425 (accessed December 18, 2017).