2 Simple Steps to Find the Subject

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We know that the subject of a sentence must be a noun. So to find the subject means we look for the nouns in a sentence and pick the word that is the doer of the action.

How is that done?

To find the subject of a sentence, start by finding the verb. Then ask yourself who or what is performing the action. Doing this reduces the guesswork needed to determine which noun acts as the subject in a sentence.

With a few exceptions, this technique works because every sentence needs two parts: a subject and a verb. Since a sentence usually has several nouns, finding the subject is easier if you can identify the action of the sentence.

Keep reading for a more detailed explanation of the steps. If you want to test yourself, skip down to the test at the end.

Step One—Find the Verb

As we discussed in a post about finding verbs, don’t simply look for an action word. Instead, the verb in a sentence has three jobs to perform.

Knowing these three functions helps you find a sentence’s verbs:

  • To express an action or state of being.
  • To tell us whether the subject is singular or plural.
  • To indicate when the action happens–its tense.

Look at this simple sentence:

I love to eat freshly baked brownies.

The obvious action word in the sentence is eat. But place a time word such as yesterday in front of the sentence, and eat is obviously not the verb:

Yesterday, I love to eaten freshly baked brownies.

Instead, try this:

Yesterday, I loved to eat freshly baked brownies.

Now try this sentence:

Yvonne really knows how to make great brownies.

Placing yesterday at the front of the sentence does not change make to made, right?

Yesterday, Yvonne really knew how to make great brownies.

For more help finding verbs, check out our post Finding the Verb.

Step Two—Ask Who or What Is Performing the Action

After you find the verb, look for the person, place, thing, or idea that performed the action. Then, ask this question: Who or what performed the action?

Technically, not all verbs show action but ask the same question.

Here’s a sentence:

The starting quarterback’s throwing arm broke during the game.

First, find the verb. You will need to use tomorrow because nothing will change if you try yesterday.

Tomorrow, the starting quarterback’s throwing arm will break during the game.

The sentence contains quarterback and arm. Which one broke? The arm.

The starting quarterback’s throwing arm broke during the game.

Your teacher might ask you to identify the entire subject. If so, throwing arm would be the correct answer.

Conclusion: Review How to Find a Subject

Here’s one final sentence to try:

The quarterback’s father ran onto the field to help his injured son.

First, find the verb:

Tomorrow, the quarterback’s father will run onto the field to help his injured son.

Notice that injured does not change. In this sentence, it is an adjective.

Next, ask who or what ran:

The quarterback’s father ran onto the field to help his injured son.

Prepositional phrases often fool students. However, this two-step process can help you identify the subject and not the object of the preposition.

The quarterback’s father sitting in the bleachers ran onto the field to help his injured son.

women sitting on the bleacher stairs
Photo by Zaria Clark on Pexels.com

Use the time trick to identify the verb:  ran. Then ask, who or what ran onto the field?

Hopefully, it wasn’t the bleachers.

Curious who makes all these rules? Then check out Who Makes Grammar Rules.

Quiz: Find the Subject

Created on By Steve Ayers

Find the Subject

Use the 2-Step Method to locate the subject of the sentence.

1 / 5

Zachary’s Social Studies teacher assigned a city project to the class.

2 / 5

The first step of the project was to pick a city.

3 / 5

His parents planned for the whole family to visit Disney World in the summer.

4 / 5

With the atlas before him, Zach picked a city next to Disney World.

5 / 5

His finger landed on Eatonville, Florida

Your score is

The average score is 100%


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