What Is the Simple Subject? (with Examples)
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What Is the Simple Subject? (with Examples)

Simple subject is the term used for the single word which is the subject of a verb.

A simple subject will often have modifiers before or after it, but, once these are removed, the word left is the simple subject.

Examples of Simple Subjects

Here are some sentences with the simple subjects highlighted.

  • The hungry fox darted across the yard.
  • (The and hungry are modifiers for the simple subject fox.)

  • The small carton of nails was found under the seat.
  • (The, small, and of nails are modifiers for the simple subject carton.)

  • The Lord's extensive collection of coins is on display until June.
  • (The, Lord's, extensive, and of coins are modifiers for the simple subject collection.)

The Simple Subject Nearly Always Determines the Number of the Verb

The simple subject nearly always determines the number of the verb (i.e., whether it is singular or plural).

  • The small carton of nails was found under the seat.
  • (The simple subject carton means was (and not were) is correct. Note: The word nails plays no role in determining the number of the verb.)

  • The Lord's extensive collection of coins is on display until June.
  • (The simple subject collection means is (and not are) is correct. Note: The word coins plays no role in determining the number of the verb.)
Be aware that the modifiers around a singular simple subject can sometimes fool a writer into using a plural verb. For example:

  • A container of nuts and bolts were found in the attic.
  • (The verb should be was not were. The simple subject is container, which is singular.)
This is covered more in the lesson on prepositional phrases.

The Simple Subject Does Not Always Determine the Number of the Verb

A noun phrase is a phrase that plays the role of a noun. The head word in a noun phrase will be a noun or a pronoun. The head word is the simple subject. In the examples below, the noun phrases are shaded and the simple subjects are in bold.

  • The black cow in that field is standing by itself.
The overwhelming majority of the time, the simple subject will determine the number of the verb (i.e., whether it is singular or plural). However, this is not always the case. On rare occasions, the sense of a noun phrase can determine number. For example:

  • Boisterous chickens in a field is a rare sight nowadays.
  • (The subject is singular even though the simple subject is plural. This does not happen very often, but be aware it can.)



See also:

What are modifiers?
What is number?
What are noun phrases?
What are prepositional phrases?
Glossary of grammatical terms
 
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