Finding the subject of a sentence

Perhaps the biggest problem with understanding long sentences is that they seem to be a lot longer than the basic syntax unit. Today we accept that there are seven basic sentence pattern types, where the possible number of obligatory units is between 2 and 4 (SVOC, SVOO and SVOA). Yet a sentence with, for example, eleven words seem difficult to fit into this pattern. The secret is to chunk them into units. Take the following sentence:

A lot of Carp fans are standing by the back entrance.

What is the subject? We know the subject of a sentence is a person (who) or a thing (what). And that in this case “standing” implies a person or people. So ask the question:

Who is (or who are) standing by the back entrance?

The answer is of course Carp fans. If in doubt the entire chunk ‘a lot of Carp fans’ would also be fine to be called the subject.


Incidentally, if you want to know what is the pattern type just think about what is necessary within the sentence.

In the above sentence almost every word is necessary. The only words which can be cut are ‘a lot of’, ‘Carp’ and ‘back’ which gives us

Fans are standing by the entrance.

Words which help nouns are called ‘adjectives’ and are mostly “decorative”. The remainder of the sentence therefore tells all that we need to know, that there are fans and they are standing (implying waiting) by the entrance. This is an SVA sentence. You can say

The fans are standing. 

but that would have a different meaning not implying waiting. Therefore by the entrance is obligatory.

Let it be – words are meant to be “lost”

Charles Darwin would have made a great linguist. In his thinking of life and evolution it is not someone who decides on what survives and what dies. It the larger mechanism of existence that “decides” so. Similarly, words should survive if there is a need for it to do so, not to be forced so because a small group of “elite” thinkers deem it so. If by argument these people can convince the world that it is important for a word to survive then so be it. Those words have a value within the larger picture of a language. But when words that have been lost they should not be revived just because someone has a fetish for signs.

I truly doubt the linguistic survival of ‘snout-fair’ would have any communicative value in English. There are so many other words which could probably give the same nuance. But truly do we need this word in the first place any more that we need a word for ‘man-love’, whatever that would mean.

To give one more analogy trying keep a dying word alive is like continuing to keep a dying medical patient on a life-support just for the benefit of others without regard for the patient’s quality of life (note: there are many cases in which life-support will save an important life). If words are outdated or fall out disuse then there must a reason for it to become so. No amount of life-support will 1) save them, or 2) make the world a better place (as cold-hearted this statement may seem) by them being here.