Sentence subjects - Graduate Writing Center

Nested Applications
Sentence Subjects

Sentence Subjects


The subject of a sentence or clause is the noun(s) or pronoun(s) (plus any related words, such as adjectives) that fulfills the action articulated by the verb

In active-voice clauses, the subject is performing an action (doing something), whereas in passive-voice clauses, the subject is receiving an action (having something done to it).

Either way, it's important to select subjects carefully. Readers generally take what comes at the beginning of a sentence—which is usually the subject—to be what the sentence is "about." Therefore, readers find writing to be clearer and more concrete when the subject is precise, which also tends to make the verb more precise.

For example

Compare these two statements (subjects are underlined, verbs are in italics): which is more forceful?

  • There are three ways in which diplomacy can help in such situations: . . . (In this common but grammatically inverted construction, "there" is an adverb that appears to stand in for the subject.)
     
  • In such situations, diplomacy can help in three ways: . . .

Most readers will experience the second sentence as the more straightforward of the two. The first version uses the placeholder "there are," which "locks" the important action—helping—in a relative clause. In the second version, the subject and verb reflect what the sentence is actually about.

Moreover, using a precise subject and verb here produces good flow: it allows the transition ("In such situations") to move up front, where it usefully contextualizes this statement, and the new information being introduced ("three ways") to move to the end, where it leads us to the next idea—i.e., the three ways.

In short

Using accurate subjects conveys your meaning more clearly to the reader and can help many other parts of the sentence fall into place, usefully propagating that original act of grammatical attention.

 

Subjects Links

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All-Topics Index


The following index makes searching for a specific topic easier and links to the appropriate place in the sequenced material. We think we have most of them, but please email us at writingcenter@nps.edu if we are missing something!

A-Z content menu

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

A

abbreviations

abstracts

academic writing

acronyms

active voice

advisor, selecting and working with

apostrophes

appointment with GWC coaches, how to schedule

argument

article usage

assignments, understanding them

audience

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B

body paragraphs

brackets, square

brainstorming

building better sentences tips

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C

capitalization

citations

citation software

citation styles

clauses

clarity

clustering

coaching, about

coaching, how to schedule

colons

comma splices

commas, FANBOYS

commas, introductory

commas, list

commas, nonessential / nonrestrictive information

commas, Oxford

commas, serial

commonly confused words 

compare-and-contrast papers 

concision

conclusions

conjunctive adverbs

coordinating conjunctions

copyright and fair use

critical thinking  

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D

dangling modifiers

dashes

dependent clauses

dependent marker words

display equations

double submission of coursework

drafting

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E

editing your own work

editing: outside editors

em dash

en dash

exclamation points

executive summary

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F

FANBOYS

FAQs

first person, use of in academic writing

footnotes

fragments

free-writing

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G

gerunds

grammar

group writing

GWC appointment, how to schedule

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H

homophones

hyphens

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I

ibid.

incomplete sentences

independent clauses

introductions

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J

Joining the Academic Conversation

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L

LaTeX

library liaisons

lists, syntax of

literature reviews 

logic and analysis 

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M

making a GWC appointment

mathematics

memos

methodologies

misplaced modifiers

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N

nominalizations

note-taking

noun clusters

numbers

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O

organization

outlining

Oxford comma

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P

paragraph development 

parallelism

paraphrasing

parentheses

parts of speech

passive voice

periods

persuasion

phrases vs. clauses

plagiarism, how to avoid through citations

plain language

polishing

prepositional phrases 

prepositions

pronouns

publishing

punctuation

purpose of research

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Q

questions

quotation marks 

quoting

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R

reading with intent

redundancies                                                                

reference software

reflection papers 

research

research questions

reusing papers

reverse outlining

revision

roadmaps                                            

run-on sentences 

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S

scheduling a GWC appointment

self-citing

semicolons

sentence fragments

serial comma

signal phrases

significance

so what?

sources, engaging with / critiquing

sources, evaluating the reliability of

sources, citing

spelling

standard essay structure

STEM / technical writing 

style

subject–verb agreement

subjects, grammatical

subordinating conjunctions

summarizing

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T

technical writing

that vs. which

thesis writing

thesis advisor, selecting and working with

thesis process overview

thesis process tips

thesis proposals – common elements                                                     

thesis statements

this, that, these, those

tone, professional

topic sentences 

transitions

types of papers

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U

United States or U.S.?

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V

verbs and verb tense

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W

which vs. that

Why write?

writer’s block 

writing process

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Z

Zotero

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