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15.12: Subject and Verb Identification

  • Page ID
    225971

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    What are they?

    Two of the most important parts of a sentence are subjects and verbs. Being able to identify subjects and verbs will allow you to create complete and clear sentences; it will also help you understand other grammatical concepts like fragments and run-together sentences.

    Connections

    See also the “Verb Tenses.”

    Identifying Verbs

    Verbs are easy to identify because they are words that indicate action or a state of being, words like: write, run, tell, have, be, look, feel. Verbs are the only part of speech that gets conjugated, that is, that changes tense in order to indicate a particular time frame. This chart contains examples of some of the more common verb tenses:

    Present
    (today)
    Past
    (yesterday)
    Future
    (tomorrow)
    Present Progressive Present Perfect Past Perfect
    I learn

    I swim.
    I learned

    I swam.
    I will learn

    I will swim.
    I am learning

    I am swimming.
    I have learned

    I have swum.
    I had learned

    I had swum.

    For more a comprehensive description of verb tenses and guidelines for using them correctly, see “Verb Tenses.”

    Sentences can contain several types of verbs and verb-like words; what we’re interested in is finding the main verbs, the words that drive the action of a sentence. While all verbs can be conjugated, main verbs are the ones that actually do change when the entire sentence changes tense. To find which words are acting as the main verbs in a sentence, then, try changing the tense. For example:

    Original sentence: New tense:
    Running a marathon is not fun. Running a marathon will not be fun.
    Hoping to build up her portfolio, the supermodel is going to Paris. Hoping to build up her portfolio, the supermodel went to Paris.
    To escape their stress, Liz and Ryan have been watching bad reality TV. To escape their stress, Liz and Ryan will be watching bad reality TV.
    The bicycle had been left in the rain. The bicycle was left in the rain.

    Identifying Subjects

    The subject of a sentence performs the action(s) indicated by the main verb; that is, the subject is the doer of the action: the diva was singing (the diva is doing the action of “singing”), the glass broke (the glass is doing the action of “breaking”), the audience started to applaud (the audience is doing the action of “applauding).

    To identify the subject of the sentence, you can ask yourself “who or what is (verb)?”

    In the following examples, the subjects have been underlined once and the verbs underlined twice.

    Sentence Question --> Subject
    Running a marathon is not fun. Subject" class="lt-human-225971">What is not fun? running
    The supermodel is going to Paris. Subject" class="lt-human-225971">Who is going to Paris? the supermodel
    Liz and Ryan have been watching bad reality TV. Subject" class="lt-human-225971">Who is watching TV? Liz and Ryan
    The bicycle had been left in the rain. Subject" class="lt-human-225971">What had been left in the rain? the bicycle

    As you might have noticed, words that end in –ing can are sometimes act like subjects:

    • Running a marathon is not fun.

    and sometimes they act as verbs:

    • Liz and Ryan are watching bad reality TV.

    As a general guideline, when an -ing word is preceded by a form of “be” (i.e. is, are, was, were), it is acting as a verb.

    Practice

    Find the subjects and main verbs in the following sentences. Underline the subject(s) once and the main verb(s) twice.

    For example: To cheer himself up, he watched old detective movies and ate ice cream.

    1. After a long, rainy winter, the woman and her husband had become tired of their small apartment, so they decided to drive to a seedy part of town in search of excitement.
    2. The couple had been cruising slowly down a side street, looking for some local nightlife, when they heard music coming from a small bar on the corner.
    3. They had just left their car when some stray cats started fighting in a side alley.
    4. When the couple walked in and sat down at the bar, nobody bothered to look up.
    5. At one end of the bar, a tired-looking woman was languidly smoking her cigarette and expertly blowing out smoke rings.
    6. The bartender was wiping down the counter and softly whistling to himself.
    7. Hunched over a table in the back corner, four men were enjoying a friendly game of cards.
    8. A sad Billie Holiday tune had been playing softly from an old jukebox, but once the song was over, the room went silent.
    9. Suddenly, a man in the back stood and threw his cards down on the table, cursing loudly.
    10. When he began to reach into his pocket, the couple looked at each other anxiously and then hurriedly backed out the door.
    Answer
    1. After a long, rainy winter, the woman and her husband had become tired of their small apartment, so they decided to drive to a seedy part of town in search of excitement.
    2. The couple had been cruising slowly down a side street, looking for some local nightlife, when they heard music coming from a small bar on the corner.
    3. They had just left their car when some stray cats started fighting in a side alley.
    4. When the couple walked in and sat down at the bar, nobody bothered to look up.
    5. At one end of the bar, a tired-looking woman was languidly smoking her cigarette and expertly blowing out smoke rings.
    6. The bartender was wiping down the counter and softly whistling to himself.
    7. Hunched over a table in the back corner, four men were enjoying a friendly game of cards.
    8. A sad Billie Holiday tune had been playing softly from an old jukebox, but once the song was over, the room went silent.
    9. Suddenly, a man in the back stood and threw his cards down on the table, cursing loudly.
    10. When he began to reach into his pocket, the couple looked at each other anxiously and then hurriedly backed out the door.

    This page titled 15.12: Subject and Verb Identification is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Skyline English Department.

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