By Geraldine Woods

All sentences contain verbs — words that express action or state of being. But you can’t have an action in a vacuum. You can’t have a naked, solitary state of being either. Someone or something must also be present in the sentence — the who or what you’re talking about in relation to the action or state of being expressed by the verb. The “someone” or “something” doing the action or being talked about is the subject.

A “someone” must be a person and a “something” must be a thing, place, or idea. So guess what? The subject is usually a noun because a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. Sometimes the subject is a pronoun — a word that substitutes for a noun or another pronoun — he, they, it, and so forth.

Teaming up: Subject and verb pairs

Another way to think about the subject is to say that the subject is the “who” or “what” part of the subject–verb pair. The subject–verb pair is the main idea of the sentence, stripped to essentials. A few sentences:

Jasper gasped at the mummy’s sudden movement.

In this sentence, Jasper gasped is the main idea; it’s also the subject–verb pair.

Justin will judge the beauty contest only if his girlfriend competes.

You should spot two subject–verb pairs in this sentence: Justin will judge and girlfriend competes.

Now try a sentence without action. This one describes a state of being, so it uses a linking verb:

Jill has always been an extremely efficient worker.

The subject–verb pair is Jill has been. Did you notice that Jill has been sounds incomplete? Has been is a linking verb, and linking verbs always need something after the verb to complete the idea. The subject–verb pair in action-verb sentences may usually stand alone, but the subject–verb pair in linking verb sentences may not.

Compound subjects and verbs: Two for the price of one

Subjects and verbs pair off, but sometimes you get two (or more) for the price of one. You can have two subjects (or more) and one verb. The multiple subjects are called compound subjects. Here’s an example:

Dorothy and Justin went home in defeat.

Here you notice one action (went) and two people (Dorothy, Justin) doing the action. So the verb went has two subjects.

Now take a look at some additional examples:

Lola and Lulu prepared breakfast for George yesterday. (Lola, Lulu = subjects)

The omelet and fries were very salty. (omelet, fries = subjects)

Snort and Squirm were not allowed to join Snow White’s band. (Snort, Squirm = subjects)

Another variation is one subject paired with two (or more) verbs. For example:

Alex screamed and cried after the contest.

You’ve got two actions (screamed, cried) and one person doing both (Alex). Alex is the subject of both screamed and cried.

Some additional samples of double verbs, which in grammatical terms are called compound verbs:

George snatched the flash drive and quickly stashed it in his pocket. (snatched, stashed = verbs)

Larry complained for hours about Ella’s insult and then crept home. (complained, crept = verbs)

Luke came to school last week but didn’t stay there. (came, did stay = verbs)