Subjects, verbs and objects: the basics
Updated: Nov 15, 2022
Most of us write without really thinking about the building blocks of the text we’re producing. And quite rightly, too – we’ve got enough on our plates constructing likeable-but-problematic protagonists and ensuring pacy plotting to also be putting deep thought into every subject, verb and object that flows from our fingertips. But knowing the basic components of English grammar can be hugely helpful in self-editing, understanding where you’re going wrong and improving your command and confidence over the written language.
Our language is made up of clauses. A clause is a group of words that can be made up of five building blocks: subjects, verbs, objects, complements and adjuncts. Every clause must have a subject and a verb that have a relationship with one another.
Example: The dog runs.
Our subject here is the dog. He is the doer, the thing that is performing the action. The subject of a clause is usually a noun phrase.
Our verb is to run. We use the infinitive form of a verb (to + the verb) when we discuss it as a component of a clause.
So, subject (the dog) + verb (to run) = the dog runs.
Got it? Let’s make things a bit more complicated, then.
Example: Michael washes the plates.
This example is a little different. We have both Michael and the plates – so who is the subject? Well, if we look at the dog runs, we know that our subject (the dog) is the one doing the action. Here, Michael is the doer, the subject performing the action (verb – washing). The plates in this example are the object of the clause – the thing to which an action is occurring.
Let’s look at some more examples.
Example: My eyes are blue.
Components: My eyes (subject) are (verb to be) blue.
Example: The farmer feeds his chickens.
Components: The farmer (subject) feeds (verb to feed) his chickens (object).
Example: The shower head sprays water.
Components: The shower head (subject) sprays (verb to spray) water (object).
Want further reading? Here are a couple of books to get you going on your grammar journey.
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Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr
Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
Several Short Sentences about Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg
Learning all of this just not your bag? If you’re a fiction writer and are struggling to polish up the finer details of your manuscript, reach out to talk to me about my copy editing or proofreading services.