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THE SUBJECT AND THE PREDICATE

The question now arises, how are we to define the subject of a sentence? The question may also he put in a different way: what criteria do we practically apply when we say that a word (or, sometimes, a phrase) is the subject of a sentence?

In trying to give a definition of the subject, we shall have to include in it both general points, valid for language in general, and specific points connected with the structure of Modern English. Thus the definition of the subject in Modern English will only partly, not wholly, coincide with its definition, say, in Russian,

First let us formulate the structure of the definition itself. It is bound to contain the following items: (1) the meaning of the subject, i. e. its relation to the thought expressed in the sentence, (2) its syntactical relations in the sentence, (3) its morphological realisation: here a list of morphological ways of realising the subject must be given, but it need not be exhaustive, as it is our purpose merely to establish the essential characteristics of every part of the sentence.

The definition of the subject would, then, be something like this. The subject is one of the two main parts of the sentence. (1) It denotes the thing l whose action or characteristic is expressed by the predicate. (2) It is not dependent on any other part of the sentence. (3) It may be expressed by different parts of speech, the most frequent ones being: a noun in the common case, a personal pronoun in, the nominative case, a demonstrative pronoun occasionally, a substantivised adjective, a numeral, an infinitive, and a gerund. It may also be expressed by a phrase.2.

In discussing problems of the subject, we must mention the argument that has been going on for some time about sentences of the following type: It gave Hermione a sudden convulsive sensation of pleasure, to see these rich colours under the candlelight. (LAWRENCE) Two views have been put forward concerning such sentences. One is, that the pronoun it at the beginning of the sentence is the formal subject, and the real subject is the infinitive (in this particular case, to see). The other view is, that it is the subject of the sentence, and the infinitive an apposition to it. There is something to be said on both sides of the question. On the wholeIhowever, the second view seems preferable, as the division of subjects into formal and real ones seems hard to justify in general syntactical theory.

1 The term "thing" has to be taken in its widest sense, including human beings, abstract notions, etc.

* We do not speak here about subordinate clauses performing the function of subject, since in that case the sentence is composite.

 


Date: 2015-01-29; view: 683


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