3 Oct 2013

Identifying the main verb and the subject in a sentence

To understand a sentence and its structure you have to find the main verb (a verb string or a compound verb) telling us what happens. Ask a question WHAT?
The answer depends on the tense of the verb - present, past or future; perfect tense, active and passive voice as well as the kind of a verb: static or active.
My friend David, with his family, spent the holiday in Spain.
Ask what? Answer: spent.
When we ask who or what ‘spent’, the answer is David – a subject of the sentence.
We have to remember that a verb in a gerund form without an auxiliary, in other words, a participle without auxiliaries does not work as a verb. Also a verb with TO in front, an infinitive, plays a non-verb role in the sentence.
To read at night, I need a good lamp.
A phrase ‘to read’ does not play a verb role here, the main verb is NEED (who?) I need, so the subject is I.
Reading a good book can make me forget about the whole world.
In the sentence above we have several verbs (all in bold), but the main verb is ‘can make’ - can is an auxiliary verb and with a verb make create a verb string. ‘Reading’ as a gerund play a role of the subject here.
To identify a subject of the sentence ask a question: who or what (verb)? What can make (me forget)? Reading.
While looking for the subject of the sentence do not mix up the subject with its completers or modifiers. In this sentence:

My friend David, with his family, spent the holiday in Spain.
‘My friend’ and ‘with his family’ are not parts of the subject unless it says:

My friend David and his family spent the holiday in Spain.
Now the sentence contains a compound subject but again, ‘my friend’ and ‘his’ do not play a subject role in it.