Detecting You-Understood Verbs
Some sentences, usually commands, appear to be without a subject. For example, what do the following sentences have in common? “Sit still.” “Eat your vegetables.” “Clean your room.”
Yes, they’re all nagging comments you’ve heard all your life. More importantly, they’re all commands. The verbs give orders: sit, eat, clean. So where’s the subject in these sentences?
If you pop the question, here’s what happens:
- Pop the question: What’s happening? What is? Answer: sit, eat, clean.
- Pop the question: Who sit, eat, clean? Answer: Uh . . .
The second question appears to have no answer, but appearances can be deceiving. The answer is you. You sit still. You eat your vegetables. You clean your room. What’s that you say? You is not in the sentence? True. You is not written, but it’s implied. And when your mom says, “Eat your vegetables,” you understand that she means you. So grammarians say that the subject is you-understood. The subject is you, even though you isn’t in the sentence and even though you don’t intend to eat any of those lima beans your mom overcooked.
Pop the questions and find the subject–verb pairs in these three sentences.
A. Ella, dancing the cha-cha, forgot to watch her feet.
B. Stop, Ella!
C. Over the bandleader and across five violin stands fell Ella.
Answers: In sentence A, forgot is the verb and Ella is the subject. Dancing is a fake verb. In sentence B, stop is the verb and you-understood is the subject. The remark is addressed to Ella, but you-understood is still the subject. In sentence C, fell is the verb and Ella is the subject.