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What is a Simple Subject?

It is a term that refers to the subject (person, place, or anything) performing an action in a sentence. These subjects can have modifiers before or after them in most cases. The modifier helps structure the sentence in a better way.

However, it is only the main word that tells what the sentence discusses, without modifiers or adjectives.

For example:

  • The boy in the red shirt is hungry

Here, “boy” is the simple subject of the verb “is,” while “the” and “in” are modifiers.

  • The rabbit ran across the yard

“The” is the modifier for the subject “Rabbit.”

Let us take a look at another example for your understanding.

  • The small box of needles is under the couch

The word “box” is the simple subject, whereas “the,” “small,” and “of needles” are modifiers.



Why does the Simple Subject Matter?

Understanding its usage can help in sentence formation. Take a look at the top reasons why a simple subject matters.

Helps Determine the Number of Verbs Nearly Always

It helps decide whether a verb is singular or plural.

  • The small box of needles is under the couch.
  • Her collection of paintings is on display till the end of this month.

Here, the word “box” determines we need to use “is.”

Similarly, in the second sentence, the subject “collection” means the use of “is” correct.

Note: The word “needles” and “paintings” have no role in determining the number of verbs in the sentences mentioned above.

However, book explanations indicate that the writer needs to keep in mind the use of modifiers. Sometimes, the modifiers around a singular simple subject can confuse you between using plural and singular verbs.

The Simple Subject Might Not Always Show the Number of Verb

While the simple word/subject signifies the number of the verb most of the time, but it is not always the case. A noun phrase is a phrase that acts as a noun, and the head word in such phrases is a noun or pronoun.

Let us take a look at some of the examples; the noun phrases are highlighted while the simple subjects are in bold.

  • The young boy on the stage is performing well.
  • Cows grazing in a field in the evening is a rare sight.

In the first example, the subject “boy” is determining the verb is singular. However, in the second sentence, the noun sense is determining the number of the verb.

Terms like “the Majority of,” “Half of,” etc., Can Be Plural or Singular

There are a few cases where it might not be clear if the subject is singular or plural. These sentences usually consist of expressions such as a majority of, a part of, a percentage of, etc. These words look singular when you read a sentence.

However, we only treat them as singular when referring to something singular. Similarly, when these words refer to something plural, we treat them as plurals.


  • Nearly half of the class knows her secret

Here the simple subject is “half.” It is singular because the word “class” is singular.

  • Half of her secrets are known to everyone

In this example, the subject is “half.” It is plural because “secrets” are plural.

What Qualifies as a Simple Subject

As discussed, they can be the main word/term/subject that tells what or whom the sentence discusses. It can be a noun, pronoun, or predicate noun.


It is a standalone noun (a person, place, thing, idea).

For example

  • Planes fly in the air

In this sentence, the word “planes” is the subject; it is a single noun that connects to the verb (fly). We can also say that it is the main focus of the sentence.

  • A fast jet plane flies in the sky

In this sentence, the word jet plane is a simple subject that connects to the verb (flies). However, the word “fast” is a modifier and explains the quality of the noun, but we do not treat it as the noun/simple subject itself.


Pronouns can also serve as simple subjects. Let us take a look at some examples to understand things better.

  • Whoever scores the most points wins.

Although the word whoever is a noun (unspecified), it still qualifies.

  • The red ones are the tastiest

In the second example, the word “ones” is unspecified, but we still consider it as the subject. Therefore, any pronoun can be a subject.

Note that “ones” is a pronoun that you can modify with the help of an adjective only. Since “ones” is the main focus of the sentence, it is the subject in this case.

Predicate Nouns

In some sentences, the noun does not perform an action. It can also link to another noun phrase to complete the sentence. You can use this rule with sentences that have “to be” in them.

  • Kevin is that cook

You can also write this sentence as

  • That cook is Kevin

There is a clear difference between the two sentences. In the first sentence, Kevin is the simple subject, whereas cook is the subject in the second sentence.

So when you write a sentence this way, the first noun counts as the simple subject of the sentence. Additionally, the second noun counts as a  

Types of Simple Subject

It is important to discuss the types to understand the concept and use it correctly.

One-Word Subject

The first and the most common type is the one-word subjects.

For example

  • My mother cooks food in the kitchen
  • My beautiful mother cooks food in the kitchen no matter how hot it is.

These kinds of sentences do not change regardless of how many modifiers you add to them.

  • My friend draws objects in his notebook
  • My best friend draws non-living objects in his notebook.

Compound Nouns

Some nouns consist of two or more words connected with a hyphen. We call them compound words and consider them a single noun and subject.


  • The ice cream melted in my hand

Here, the word ice cream has two separate nouns, but they still count as the same word. We must treat the two nouns as a single word and a simple subject.

Proper nouns can also appear as compounds in a sentence in some cases.


  • The American Badger is similar to the European Badger in looks.

The words American badger and European Badger count as compound nouns and are still a simple subject.

Nouns and Passive Voice

There are cases where the subject of the sentence does not carry out the verb (action). The action is performed on the subject instead. These sentences are in passive voice. Take a look at the following examples.


  • The lion chased the deer

Lion is the simple subject in the sentence above that carries out the verb (chased the deer). This is a simple active voice sentence. We can change the sentence slightly to create a different meaning.

  • The lion was chased by the deer

In this sentence, we see that the lion is not performing the action of chasing. Rather it is being chased by the deer. But the word lion is still the simple subject in this sentence as it comes before the verb.

Interrogative Pronouns

There are different ways to ask a question or inquire about something in the English language. While the structure of the sentence changes, it ends with a question mark. It can get confusing to identify the simple subject in such cases. However, when you see an interrogative word (who, what, which) at the beginning of the sentence, the subject does not change.


  1. Who wants to have a burger?

In this example, the main focus of the sentence is the word who and is the simple subject. However, if you use “to be” in an interrogative sentence, it becomes too vague.

  1. Who is the girl on the swing?

The word girl is not the simple subject in this sentence because who comes before the girl.

  1. Which of these books is yours?

Similarly, the word “books” is not the main focus. “Which” is the main focus of the question, making the word which a simple subject.

Use Ed Tech Resources for Your Child’s Better Understanding

Do you still have any confusion or want more examples? You can use EdTech Resources for your child’s better understanding of simple subjects, parts of speech, and other grammar topics.

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