Subjects don’t have to be nouns

Writers use a variety of sentence structures. The normal order of English declarative sentences is Subject-Verb. When we are first learning how to build sentences in English, the examples usually stick to the simplest form. Most subjects in the S-V structures are nouns or pronouns. (The dog ran. The boy skipped. The father laughed.) But, as we become more proficient at our language, we learn that a subject can be a phrase or a clause that functions as a noun.

Three sentences from Sunday’s (March 30, 2008) News & Observer illustrate the use of phrases or clauses as subjects of sentences.

In a Christian Science Monitor story:

How people hear something depends on their own experience and worldview, says Teresa Fry Brown, who teaches the art of preaching at Emory University in Atlanta. (How people hear something is the subject of the verb “depends”).

In a T. Keung Hui story about the education of gifted students:

How to better serve gifted students has recently surfaced as a local and state issue. (The infinitive phrase How to better serve gifted students is the subject of “has surfaced.”)

In a Jay Price story about an effort to rename Pope Air Force Base:

What the base would be called hasn’t been decided either, Drohan said, though there seems to be support for simply calling it Pope Field. (What the base would be called is the subject of “hasn’t been decided.”)

A noun phrase or clause acting as the subject of a sentence takes a singular verb.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.