§ 40. Every English sentence but the one-member and the imperative one must have a subject. The subject is one of the two main parts of the, sentence. The most important feature of the subject in English is that in declarative sentences it normally comes immediately before the predicate, whereas in questions its position is immediately after an operator. It means that in English sentences any word or words which occur in these positions are to be treated as the subject of the sentence.
The subject determines the form of the verbal part of the predicate as regards its number and person.
Ways of expressing the subject
§ 41. The subject is expressed by:
1. A noun in the common case (including substantivized adjectives and participles) or a nominal phrase with a noun.
The fog is thinning.
Science is not omnipotent.
The blue of the sky deepened visibly.
The dying must be left in peace.
From Marlow up to Sonning is even fairer yet.
Four and three is seven.
A great number of frees were felled.
Occasionally a noun in the genitive case is the subject. This may be if a noun denotes someone’s place of business or residence, as in:
The grocer’s was full.
It may be the result of ellipsis as in:
Jim’s was a narrow escape. (= Jim’s escape was a narrow one.)
The latter type of subject is rather emphatic.
2. A personal pronoun in the nominative case.
I shall do the best I can.
She is very beautiful.
3. Any other noun-pronoun.
Nothing can be done about it.
This is the last straw.
Hers was the final judgement.
One learns by experience.
Who told you this?
4. A numeral (either cardinal or ordinal) or a nominal phrase with a
Seven cannot be divided by two.
Two of them were left in the camp.
The third was a young man with a dog.
5. An infinitive or an infinitive phrase.
To understand is to forgive.
To deny the past is to deny the future.
6. A gerund or a gerundial phrase.
Talking mends no holes.
Working for someone keeps a woman calm and contented.
7. An infinitive or a gerundial predicative complex.
For her to fall asleep in broad daylight was not at all usual.
His walking out of the room in the very middle of the argument was quite unexpected.
8. Any word or words used as quotations.
“And” is a conjunction.
The “how” and the “why” of things never seems to occur to children.
His “How do you do” never sounds cordial enough.
“The War of the Worlds” was first published in 1898.
9. A clause (then called a subject clause), which makes the whole
sentence a complex one.
What girls of her sort want is just a wedding ring.
This kind of subject is treated in full in § 147-148.
Grammatical classification of the subject
§ 42. From the point of view of its grammatical value the subject may be either notional or formal.
The notional subject denotes or (if expressed by a pronoun) points out a person or a non-person.
The formal subject neither denotes nor points out any person or non-person and is only a structural element of the sentence filling the position of the subject. Thus a formal subject functions only as a position-filler. In English there are two such position-fillers: it and there.
The notional subject
§ 43. The notional subject denotes or points out a person or non-person, that is, various kinds of concrete things, substances, abstract notions or happening.
The policeman stepped back.
The audience cheered wildly.
I know all about it.
Whoever said that was wrong.
Non-persons, including animals, whose name may be substituted by if or they.
A house was ready there for the new doctor. It stood on a hill.
These beasts are found only on four southern islets.