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Tuesday, 2024-02-27, 2:02 PM
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Some unusual subjects, Inside the predicate, The direct object, Realisations of direct object

12.4 Some Unusual Subjects

Before leaving this topic, we will point out some grammatical Subjects which may at first glance be difficult to recognise as such. For example, can you work out the Subject of the following sentence?

There is a fly in my soup

As we've seen, the most reliable test for identifying the Subject is Subject-verb inversion, so let's try it here:

Declarative: There is a fly in my soup
Interrogative: Is there a fly in my soup?

The inversion test shows that the subject is there. You will recall that this is an example of existential there, and the sentence in which it is the Subject is an existential sentence.

Now try the same test on the following:

It is raining

The inversion test shows that the Subject is it:

Declarative: It is raining
Interrogative: Is it raining?

These two examples illustrate how limited the notional definition of the Subject really is. In no sense can we say that there and it are performing an "action" in their respective sentences, and yet they are grammatically functioning as Subjects.

On this page, we've seen that the function of Subject can be realised by several different forms. Conversely, the various forms (NP, clause, PP, etc) can perform several other functions, and we will look at these in the following pages.

12.5 Inside the Predicate

Now we will look inside the Predicate, and assign functions to its constituents. Recall that the Predicate is everything apart from the Subject. So in David plays the piano, the Predicate is plays the piano. This Predicate consists of a verb phrase, and we can divide this into two further elements:

[plays] [the piano]

In formal terms, we refer to the verb as the PREDICATOR, because its function is to predicate or state something about the subject. Notice that Predicator is a functional term, while verb is a formal term:







However, since the Predicator is always realised by a verb, we will continue to use the more familiar term verb, even when we are discussing functions.

12.6 The Direct Object

In the sentence David plays the piano, the NP the piano is the constituent which undergoes the "action" of being played (by David, the Subject). We refer to this constituent as the DIRECT OBJECT.

Here are some more examples of Direct Objects:

We bought a new computer
I used to ride a motorbike
The police interviewed all the witnesses

We can usually identify the Direct Object by asking who or what was affected by the Subject. For example:

We bought a new computer

Q. What did we buy?
A. A new computer ( = the Direct Object)

The Direct Object generally comes after the verb, just as the Subject generally comes before it. So in a declarative sentence, the usual pattern is:

Subject -- Verb -- Direct Object

The following table shows more examples of this pattern:




Direct Object

The tourists


the old cathedral



a postcard

The detectives


the scene of the crime


12.7 Realisations of the Direct Object

The Direct Object is most often realised by an NP, as in the examples above. However, this function can also be realised by a clause. The following table shows examples of clauses functioning as Direct Objects:


functioning as




Nominal relative clause

[1] He thought that he had a perfect alibi

[2] The officer described what he saw through the keyhole


To-infinitive clause

Bare infinitive clause

-ing clause

-ed clause

[3] The dog wants to play in the garden

[4] She made the lecturer laugh

[5] Paul loves playing football

[6] I'm having my house painted



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