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1.2: Main Subjects

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    15230
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    Always find the verb first. Once you do, ask yourself, “Who or what is doing the action?” [Image: Matthew Henry | Unsplash]

    Definition to Remember:

    • Subject = Who/what is doing the action

    Always find the verb first. Once you do, ask yourself, “Who or what is doing the action?” Picture the action in your mind. Is the answer you have come up with logical? Are the action you have named and the subject you have identified the chief intent of the sentence?

    If you have been taught to think of a subject as a person, place, or thing, be careful. A noun is a person, place, or thing, but the main subject of a sentence can be more: a verb phrase, an adjectival phrase, or even an implied entity.

    “As a long-time manager of multiple departments, a critical skill I look for in hiring for management and professional positions is the ability to communicate well in writing. The ability to communicate well in emails, reports, and in other documents is a requirement for advancing in one’s career.” Wes Friesen, Manager

    If your main verb is a linking verb, the “Who or what is doing the action?” may need a little finessing. For example, consider this sentence: The hotel carpet is colorful. If you have named is as your main verb, ask yourself, “Who or what is?” Your answer should be carpet.

    A helpful trick: To locate the main subject and main verb, begin by eliminating the factors that you know cannot contain the main subject or main verb. Those include the following:

    • Prepositional phrases: a 3- to 4-word phrase that begins with a preposition and ends with a noun, such as on the floor, after the party, over the bridge, etc.
    • Articles: the, a, an
    • Infinitive verbs: to + verb, such as to run, to sit, to eat, to sleep
    • Gerund verbs without helper verbs: -ing verb, such as running, sitting, eating, sleeping
    • Introductory phrases: before the long drive, after I called him, on Monday
    • Concluding phrases:before the long drive, after I called him, on Monday (such phrases can go before or after the main sentence, depending on what you choose to emphasize).

    Watch the following reduce from a lengthy sentence to simple math:

    [After class today], the woman [with the brown sunglasses] ran [across the street] [to buy a latte] [before getting into her car].

    After class today is a prepositional phrase and an introductory phrase; the is an article; with the brown sunglasses is a prepositional phrase; across the street is a prepositional phrase; to buy a latte is an infinitive verb; and before getting into her car is a prepositional phrase, a gerund verb, and a concluding phrase.

    Do you see how the simple math emerges? As you learn to cross out the extraneous factors where a main subject and main verb cannot hide, you will begin to see the subject and verb emerge in every sentence.

    Look online for lists of hundreds of prepositions. Here are a few:
    about down past
    above for since
    across from to
    after in toward
    around into under
    before of until
    behind off up
    below on with
    beyond onto within
    by over without

     

    Rules to Remember:

    1. If you are able, reduce the main subject and main verb to a single word each. Remember that the goal of Chapters 1 and 2 is to learn to identify the two key factors of the sentence equation: Just as 1 +1 = 2, a subject + a verb = a sentence. Once you are able to quickly spot the key factors of a sentence, run-ons and sentence fragments will no longer be an issue.
      • The brown-haired woman with the red shirt ran past me first. (woman + ran)
      • The giant leaves of the palm tree were tinged with brown. (leaves + were)
      • The heavyset waiter forgot to take my order. (waiter + forgot)
    2. While there may be other subjects and nouns in your sentence, remember that you are looking for the main subject. Slow down when you ask yourself “Who or what did the action?” and be sure you named the correct subject as your main subject.
      • After a long day of preparing depositions, the attorney settled into his art studio with his paintbrushes, a fresh canvas, and a Chopin prelude. (attorney + settled)
      • The cat ran across the yard with his eyes wide with panic and his tale bushed out like a squirrel’s. (cat + ran)
      • Once his grandmother arrives, Mark will show her the china in the hall cabinet. (Mark + will)
    3. Watch for the compound main subject, which means you have more than one subject associated with the same main verb.
      • The mangoes and the papayas were all bruised at the bottom of the grocery bag. (mangoes, papayas + were) Richard and Stephanie both decided to skip the concert tonight. (Richard, Stephanie + decided)
      • When he moved to his new apartment, his friends and his family complained about the number of heavy boxes of books that needed to be carried. (friends, family + complained)
    4. In colloquial speech or written dialogue, the subject can sometimes be implied. Do not rely on an implied subject in formal or academic writing.
      • Wait!
        You is the implied subject.
      • When?
        You is the implied subject here as well, as in Do you know when?

    Common Errors:

    • Forgetting the main subject.
      • The two-year-old girl spun gleefully in circles across the green lawn. Skirt swirling, spinning and spinning.
        Spinning is an effective compound main verb, but it is missing a subject. This sentence can be corrected by joining the fragment with the sentence just prior or by adding the missing subject: Skirt swirling, she kept spinning and spinning.
    • Mismatching the subject and verb.
      • The red-breasted robin, awake early in March and ready to announce the blooming crocuses, sing a beautiful melody as the sun begins to rise.
        Robin is singular, which means the main verb must be singular as well: robin + sings.
    • Mistaking a prepositional phrase for the subject.
      • The pages of the book got wet in the rainstorm yesterday.
        Of the book is a prepositional phrase, which will never contain your main subject. The main subject and main verb are as follows: pages + got. Take note that erroneous verbs often occur when a writer inadvertently assumes a noun in a prepositional phrase is the main subject.

    Exercises:

    Exercise 2.1

    Identify the main subject in the following sentences.

    1. The pitcher threw a fastball.
    2. Jonah jumped over his brother.
    3. The president of the company always arrives at the office before anyone else.
    4. Under his coat, he wore a bright red sweater.
    5. The lettuce in the salad drawer looks old to me.
    6. I love a good hamburger.
    7. The couple danced three waltzes last night.
    8. My great grandmother always sewed all of her sons’ clothes herself.
    9. Her coworkers decided to throw her a surprise party.
    10. He loves that kind of music, even with the odd backbeat.

    Exercise 2.2

    Identify the main subject in the following sentences.

    1. Every election season, she keeps the news on every minute that she’s awake.
    2. When you wake up, you should raise the shades first thing to enjoy the mountain view.
    3. Are we going to the movie together or separately?
    4. He never schedules enough time to get all of his work done.
    5. I put cherries in the red bowl on the counter.
    6. When her dad was in high school, he learned to type on a manual typewriter.
    7. The new veterinarian specializes in caring for large animals.
    8. Their anniversary was yesterday.
    9. That new dog doesn’t realize that our yard is not part of his property.
    10. When the police officer pulled her over, the woman explained that she had not seen the new speed limit sign.

    Exercise 2.3

    Identify and correct the subject and verb errors in the following paragraph.

    When Lincoln started his new job at the physician’s office, he weren’t sure what he would be doing. On the first day, he follows Linda around to see what she did. He enjoys sitting at the front desk to greet patients and answer the phones. Gave him a tour of the office complex. Lincoln was learned how to log onto the computers in each exam room. After lunch, Lincoln was surprise to learn that much of Linda’s time is spent talking to insurance companies. Linda gives Lincoln a link to a master list of insurance codes. Joked that he would rather just greet and care for patients. Linda agrees. After eight hours of shadowing Linda, was ready for his first day of work on his own.

    Answer Key:

    Answer Key Exercise 2.1

    1. The pitcher threw a fastball.
    2. Jonah jumped over his brother.
    3. The president of the company always arrives at the office before anyone else.
    4. Under his coat, he wore a bright red sweater.
    5. The lettuce in the salad drawer looks old to me.
    6. I love a good hamburger.
    7. The couple danced three waltzes last night.
    8. My great grandmother always sewed all of her sons’ clothes herself.
    9. Her coworkers decided to throw her a surprise party.
    10. He loves that kind of music, even with the odd backbeat.

    Answer Key Exercise 2.2

    1. Every election season, she keeps the news on every minute that she’s awake.
    2. When you wake up, you should raise the shades first thing to enjoy the mountain view.
    3. Are we going to the movie together or separately?
    4. He never schedules enough time to get all of his work done.
    5. I put cherries in the red bowl on the counter.
    6. When her dad was in high school, he learned to type on a manual typewriter.
    7. The new veterinarian specializes in caring for large animals.
    8. Their anniversary was yesterday.
    9. That new dog doesn’t realize that our yard is not part of his property.
    10. When the police officer pulled her over, the woman explained that she had not seen the new speed limit sign.

    Answer Key Exercise 2.3

    When Lincoln started his new job at the physician’s office, he wasn’t sure what he would be doing. On the first day, he followed Linda around to see what she did. He enjoyed sitting at the front desk to greet patients and answer the phones. Linda gave him a tour of the office complex. Lincoln learned how to log onto the computers in each exam room. After lunch, Lincoln was surprised to learn that much of Linda’s time is spent talking to insurance companies. Linda gave Lincoln a link to a master list of insurance codes. Lincoln joked that he would rather just greet and care for patients. Linda agreed. After eight hours of shadowing Linda, Lincoln was ready for his first day of work on his own.

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