We said earlier that, by definition, a clause contains a subject as well as a verb group.

Does that mean that if you wanted to count clauses in a sentence, you could count subjects in the same way we counted verb groups on the previous page? 🤔

Let's try it.

Paul thought he should run to the door.

2 verb groups and 2 subjects! So far so good. Let's do another one.

I could see he was alive even though he made no sign or movement.

3 and 3! Every verb group so far has a corresponding subject—it's like a magic rule!

He'd been sent there for being a nuisance in Assembly.

Uh-oh... The second verb group in that last snippet doesn't seem to have a subject. 😭

Or does it? 🧐

It isn't explicitly written out, but it's clear from context that he who'd "been sent there" was also the one "being a nuisance in Assembly".

This is called an 'implied subject'. We know what the subject is from the previous clause, so we don't need it spelled out again. We're smarter than that!

What are the implied subjects in these sentences?

My eyes are black and I can make them go all wicked and witchy.

Who or what goes all wicked and witchy? The speaker or her eyes?

Try the same thing on this snippet, in which a submarine has tipped over after striking something beneath an iceberg:

The pictures on the starboard side, from being no longer vertical, were clinging to the paper, whilst those of the port side were hanging at least a foot from the wall.

Who or what is no longer vertical? Who or what is clinging to the paper?
  1. My eyes go all wicked and witchy.
  2. The pictures on the starboard side are no longer vertical, and are clinging to the paper.

The ability to carry through subjects from other clauses is a key way we can make our writing more efficient, so keep an eye out for implied subjects as you work through this lesson!

How many subjects does the first clause in this sentence have?

Her arms and legs and her fingers looked as if they had been stretched.

There are 3 'actors' that are being expressed ("her arms", "her legs", and "her fingers"), but really they're all filling the same grammatical subject 'slot' in the clause.

Her arms and legs and her fingers looked as if they had been stretched.

If we want to change the 'subject' of this clause, we simply change what's in that slot:

Her limbs looked as if they had been stretched.

They looked as if they had been stretched.

The sugar candies from the street vendor looked as if they had been stretched.

The rubber bands and the balloons looked as if they had been stretched.

So think about the 'subject' of a clause being a slot. It might have 1 'actor' in it, or 100 actors, or be implied, or it might not even have any actors at all (read about 'empty subjects' in the Simple Sentences lesson!), but there's always 1 subject slot that has to be filled by something.


Snippet source: Mosquito Advertising: The Blade Brief by Kate Hunter

Next, we'll look at the elements that not all clauses have: modifiers and objects.