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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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Subjects and Verbs: Part I


In the next three issues of Grammar Tips & Tidbits, we'll be discussing subjects and verbs—and how to make them agree with each other.

The following rules come from The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation website, courtesy of Jane Straus.¹ You can view additional tips, read Jane's blog, or purchase her book at the following website: http://www.grammarbook.com. Jane's site also includes tons of free quizzes so you can test your knowledge. If you can't get enough grammar quizzes, you're in luck. Jane also offers a subscription area containing over 100 interactive quizzes!

NOTE: In the article below, subjects are shown in bold and verbs are underlined.  (The original article uses a different convention.)

Finding Subjects and Verbs
by Jane Straus

Being able to find the right subject and verb will help you correct errors of agreement.

  Example: The list of items is/are on the desk.
Being able to identify the subject and verb correctly will also help you with commas and semicolons as you will see later.
Definition. A Verb is a word that shows action (runs, hits, slides) or state of being (is, are, was, were, am, and so on).
  Examples: He ran around the block.


You are my friend.
Rule 1.                If a verb follows to, it is called an infinitive phrase and is not the main verb. You will find the main verb either before or after the infinitive phrase.


I like to walk.


The efforts to get her elected succeeded.
Definition. A Subject is the noun or pronoun that performs the verb.


The woman hurried.

Woman is the subject.
Rule 2. A subject will come before a phrase beginning with of.
  Example: A bouquet of yellow roses will lend color and fragrance to the room.
Rule 3. To find the subject and verb, always find the verb first. Then ask who or what performed the verb.
  Examples: The jet engine passed inspection.

is the verb. Who or what passed? The engine, so engine is the subject. If you included the word jet as the subject, lightning will not strike you. Technically, jet is an adjective here and is part of what is known as the complete subject.
    From the ceiling hung the chandelier.

The verb is hung. Now, if you think ceiling is the subject, slow down. Ask who or what hung. The answer is chandelier, not ceiling. Therefore, chandelier is the subject.
Rule 4. Any request or command such as "Stop!" or "Walk quickly." has the understood subject you because if we ask who is to stop or walk quickly, the answer must be you.
  Example: (You) Please bring me some coffee.

is the verb. Who is to do the bringing? You is understood.
Rule 5. Sentences often have more than one subject, more than one verb, or pairs of subjects and verbs.
  Examples: I like cake and he likes ice cream.

Two pairs of subjects and verbs
    He and I like cake.

Two subjects and one verb
    She lifts weights and jogs daily.

One subject and two verbs

Are you ready for the quiz? Click here to take an interactive quiz at The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation website.

Click here to read Part II in the series!

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1.  Straus, Jane. "Finding Subjects and Verbs."
     The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation
     Published with permission.