subject


Written By: Ehsan Jahandarpour

The subject (abbreviated or ) is, according to a tradition that can be traced back to Aristotle (and that is associated with phrase structure grammars), one of the two main constituents of a clause, the other constituent being the predicate, whereby the predicate says something about the subject. According to a tradition associated with predicate logic and dependency grammars, the subject is the most prominent overt argument of the predicate. By this position all languages with arguments have subjects, though there is no way to define this consistently for all languages. From a functional perspective, a subject is a phrase that conflates nominative case with the topic. Many languages (such as those with ergative or Austronesian alignment) do not do this, and by this definition would not have subjects. All of these positions see the subject in English determining person and number agreement on the finite verb, as exemplified by the difference in verb forms between he eats and they eat. The stereotypical subject immediately precedes the finite verb in declarative sentences in English and represents an agent or a theme. The subject is often a multi-word constituent and should be distinguished from parts of speech, which, roughly, classify words within constituents.