Subjects and Verbs

Learning Objective:

  • Identify the subject and main verb in a sentence.

In this lesson, you will learn how to identify the subjectThe people, places, things, or ideas being discussed or described. and main verbA part of speech that refers to what is happening, the action, what the subject is doing, or how it is “being.” Examples include: sleep, to be, think. of a sentenceA group of words, phrases, or clauses that expresses a complete thought. A complete sentence has these characteristics: a capitalized first word, a subject and a predicate, and end punctuation, such as a period (.), question mark (?), or exclamation mark (!).. In order to write clear and effective sentences, you must include three elements:

  1. A subject.
  2. A main verb.
  3. A complete thought.

These are essential parts of speech and the building blocks of a clear and effective sentence. If you are missing any one of these, you do not have a sentence, even if you have capitalized the first word and put a period after the last.

In a sentence, the subject is the "who" or "what" of the sentence. The subject is always either a nounA part of speech that refers to a person, place, or thing. Examples include: swimmer, lake, sunscreen. or pronounA part of speech that substitutes for a noun or noun phrase. Examples include: I, he, you, they.. A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea, such as Billy, desert, book, and freedom. A pronoun refers to and/or restates a noun, such as he, she, it, and they. Take a look at the following sentence:

            Joe saw his mom at the store.

In this case, the subject is Joe because he is the focus of the sentence and is the one doing the action.

The verb is saw. This is what Joe did: Joe saw his mom at the store.

There are three major types of verbs: action, linking, and helping.

Action verbsA word that tells the reader what the subject of a sentence is doing. Example: Martha washed the dishes. In this sentence, washed is what Martha was doing, so it is the action verb. tell the reader what the subject is doing. Let's revisit the following sentence:

            Joe saw his mom at the store.

What is Joe doing in this sentence? He "saw" his mom. Saw is an action.

Linking Verbs
Linking verbsVerbs that work with state of being verbs to describe a subject. The forms of be usually function as linking verbs: be, being, been, is, am, was, were. Example: The weather today is hot and humid. are words that show something being or existing, but they do not show a direct action taking place. The most common linking verbs are also known as "state of being" verbs and include: is, am, are, was, were, seems, feels, appears, becomes, and looks.

Linking verbs do not express action. Instead of telling us what the subject is or was doing, a linking verb tells what a subject is. To better understand linking verbs, think of equations in math like 2+2=4. Linking verbs act like an equal sign; however, instead of using an equal sign, we substitute the word are (a linking verb) and say two and two are four.

Here is an example of a state of being verb in a sentence:

            Marty is an amazing speaker.

In this sentence, the subject is Marty and the state of being verb is is.

Special Linking Verbs
There are a number of verbs that can be classified as either action or linking verbs. They include the following: look, smell, sound, taste, feel. To determine whether they are linking or action verbs, first look for the subject. Then ask yourself if the subject is actually doing what the verb says. If not, it is a linking verb.

For example:

            My mom smelled the roses that my dad gave her for their twentieth anniversary.

In this sentence, Mom is the subject and she is actually using her nose to smell the roses. Smelled is an action verb in this instance.

The roses smelled so good.

In this case, "roses" is the subject. These roses do not have a nose that they use to smell, so "smelled" in this case is a linking verb. To confirm your guess, see if you can substitute am, is, are, was or were in for "smelled." "The roses are so good."

Helping Verbs
Helping verbsA verb used with an action verb to show what is happening and to provide a tense (past, present, future) for the situation. Examples include: can, may, should. work with action verbs to show what is happening and to provide a tenseThe form of a verb that tells when an action occurs. Verb tenses include past, present, and future. Example to live: past: lived; present: lives, future: will live. (past, present, future) for the situation.

The following table outlines the 24 helping verbs:






























Here are some examples of sentences using helping verbs:

Josh will register for classes early.

In this sentence, the subject is Josh, the helping verb is will, and the verb is register. The helping verb shows that the action will take place in the future.

The professor had graded the papers yesterday.

In this sentence, the subject is the professor, the helping verb is had, and the verb is graded. The helping verb shows that the action took place in the past.