Simple and Complete Subjects in Grammar

Summary

The simple subject is the primary word or phrase that a sentence is about. The complete subject is the simple subject and any words that modify or describe it.

Examples
  • Simple subject: The man with the marbles is here.
    Complete subject: The man with the marbles is here.
  • Simple subject: A number of items are missing.
    Complete subject: A number of items are missing.
  • Simple subject: The number of cases is rising.
    Complete subject: The number of cases is rising.
  • Simple subject: Minerva Dash is our new manager.
    Complete subject: Minerva Dash is our new manager.

Identifying the simple subject can help ensure subject-verb agreement.

Examples
  • A number of items is/are missing.
  • but
  • The number of cases is/are rising.

Subjects in grammar

The subject of a sentence is the doer or agent, the one performing an action.

Examples
  • Maya visited Estonia last year.
  • My aunt is an astronaut.
  • The strange red lights vanished as suddenly as they had appeared.

The subject can also be what a state or event refers to.

Examples
  • Nesbit needs a new phone.
  • The party is on Wednesday.
  • Everyone in the room was stunned by the announcement.

The subject may simply be the person or thing being described in a sentence.

Examples
  • Tumkin is a brilliant man.
  • This milk tastes sour.
  • The crystal was cool to the touch.

As can be seen, the subject is whom or what a sentence is about. In traditional grammar, subjects can be classified as simple and complete. In this article, we discuss the difference between simple and complete subjects, and how distinguishing between the two can help you choose the right verb form in a sentence.

Simple subject

The simple subject is the key word or phrase that a sentence is about.

Examples
  • My friend is a writer.
  • The little shop around the corner is gone.
  • Harris’s sister is an astronaut.
  • The cat they brought home from the shelter was white with black spots.

The simple subject in a sentence can be a proper or a common noun, or a pronoun.

Examples
  • Minerva Dash is a famous architect.
  • Is your mother home?
  • My neighbor, who’s a superhero, has lost her cape.
  • You can ask for help if you need it.

A simple subject may also be a phrase.

Examples
  • On weekends is when we relax.
  • At six will be fine.
Note

The subject can take various grammatical forms. Although it is most often a noun phrase, it can also be a noun clause or a prepositional phrase.

Complete subject

A complete subject is the simple subject along with its modifiers, which are all the other words that accompany the simple subject.

Examples
  • My friend is a writer.
  • The little shop around the corner is gone.
  • Harris’s sister is an astronaut.
  • The cat we adopted from the shelter was white with black spots.
  • Minerva Dash is a famous architect.
  • Is your mother home?
  • My neighbor, who’s a superhero, has lost her cape.
  • You can ask for help if you need it.
  • On weekends is when we relax.
  • At six is when I leave work.

An easy way to identify the complete subject is to remove the predicate from the sentence. Everything other than the predicate is the complete subject. (The predicate begins at the verb.)

Examples
  • This Italian dish is delicious.
    Complete subject: This Italian dish is delicious.
  • The chef, who’s Italian, is an artist.
    Complete subject: The chef, who’s Italian, is an artist.
Note

Sometimes the complete subject is the same as the simple subject.

Examples
  • Simple subject: Rita has adopted a tarantula.
    Complete subject: Rita has adopted a tarantula.
  • but
  • Simple subject: My friend Anita loves cats.
    Complete subject: My friend Anita loves cats.

Verb agreement with simple subject

Identifying the simple subject in a sentence can help ensure subject-verb agreement. The verb used in a sentence must agree with its subject. In long sentences, agreement can be confusing. Identify the simple subject, and make sure the verb used agrees with it.

Examples
  • One of the candidates submitting applications is/are on the phone.
    The simple subject is one of the candidates, which is singular. Ignore all the other words in the complete subject, and use the singular verb is.
  • The number of people looking for jobs has/have gone up.
    simple subject = number (singular)
  • A number of people, one of whom looks furious, is/are waiting in your office.
    simple subject = people (plural), not number or one
  • My friends, whom I have known since college, is/are moving to Thailand.
    simple subject = friends (plural)
  • My mom, as well as her friends, loves/love this movie.
    simple subject = mom (singular)

Compound subjects

In a compound subject, two or more subjects are joined by a conjunction like and to share the same verb.

Examples
  • The dog and the cat are friends.
  • The manager or the staff will know.

It can be tricky to determine whether to use singular or plural verbs with compound subjects. When two subjects are joined by or or nor, the verb used should agree with the simple subject closest to it.

Examples
  • The writers or the editor has to decide.
  • The editor or the writers have to decide.
  • Neither my grandparents nor my mom is from Spain.
  • Neither my mom nor my grandparents are from Spain.

Quick Quiz

What is the simple subject in the sentence, “My new friend is from Mars”?
Choose from these answers
All done!
What is the complete subject in the sentence, “My new friend is from Mars”?
Choose from these answers
All done!
Which is grammatically correct?
Choose from these answers
All done!
Which is grammatically correct?
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All done!

Did You Know?

A leading zero is included to write time on the 24-hour clock (06:30)
Know more:24-Hour Clock Format: How to Write and Say Military Time