Level Two Instructional Material
Identifying Subjects and Finite Verbs
Find the Verb First
Different people's minds work differently, and some people seem to find it easiest to identify subjects first and then the verb that goes with them. If you are stumped, try that, but it may be easier to identify verbs first. Several methods for identifying verbs have been proposed. Individually, none of them seem to be successful, but each may help.
The first is the definition of verbs as words that "show action or state of being." The definition is basically true, but it is probably too vague -- what is meant by "show," and by the even vaguer "state of being"? In
As for "state of being," I never knew what that meant, and still don't. (And I love philosophy.) Fortunately, the verbs that show state of being are limited in number and are almost always used as finite verbs. They, together with some other very commonly used verbs, should simply be remembered:
Suffixes such as "ing" and "ed" help to identify many words as verbs.
Another simple way to check to see if a word CAN BE a verb is to use it to fill in simple blanks to make acceptable sentences:
She/They ______.Generally speaking, only words that can function as verbs will make sense in the blanks, but that does not mean that the word functions as a verb in the sentence you are analyzing.
Another way of telling if a word can function as a verb is to test whether or not it can have number and tense. Grammatically, "number" refers to the difference between one (singular) and more than one (plural):
Past: He walked. He was walking. He did walk.Suppose, for example, that you were attempting to decide if "time" is a verb in the following sentence:
Perhaps a more helpful guideline is that words that can be verbs do not function as verbs when they are directly preceded by "a," "an," or "the," or by possessives (his, their, Mary's):
They made the play.
A verb phrase, in the simplest sense, is a group of verbs that work as a unit:
They were working on the road.In KISS Level Four, you will learn that verb phrases can be analyzed into smaller pieces, but at Level Two, your primary objective is to identify all the verbs in a phrase as a part of the phrase. Sometimes the words in a phrase are separated from each other:
Would they like to come to supper?
Always work one pattern at a time -- find the verb, find its subject(s), and then find its complement(s). I have seen many students who underline a verb here, another one there, then perhaps a subject from a different pattern somewhere else. Such students never know when they are done, and they almost never do a good job. Work systematically, sentence-by-sentence, one pattern at a time.
If you find the finite verb first, you can use what they teach in middle and high school to help you find its subject. Unfortunately, most teachers don't give students everything they need. Teachers say, "Find the subject by making a question with 'who' or 'what.'" If the sentence is
But what happens with:
And there is another problem:
In addition to the "who or what + verb" question, we need two additional rules:
1 If a a verb is outside a prepositional phrase, its subject cannot be inside one.In our first example ("Some of these concepts are difficult.") this rule eliminates "concepts" from consideration, and in effect forces you to the only word left, "some," which is the subject. Prepositional phrases between subjects and their verbs are fairly common, so your ability to identify prepositional phrases -- earned at Level One -- will make Level Two easier.
For practical purposes, if you are working at Level Two, you can ignore anything and everything in prepositional phrases as you look for subjects and verbs. Only one prepositional phrase in two hundred involves subjects and verbs, a percentage so low that it is not worth worrying about until we get to clauses -- where the construction will become clear. (Again, one thing at a time!)
2. The complement of one verb can NEVER function as the subject of another. There are NO exceptions.This rule, firmly based on our psycholinguistic model of how the human brain processes language, resolves the second problem. In our example ("It was the manager who caught the thief.") "manager is a predicate noun after "was," so it cannot be the subject of "caught." In most cases, as in this one, you will be left with only one word, usually "who," "which," or "that" which functions as the subject.
As suggested at the beginning of this page, the basic sentence pattern is subject / verb / optional complement. We each figured this out for ourselves, as babies, and to this day our brains still expect the same basic pattern. Generally speaking, our brains will take the first noun phrase as the subject of a sentence. As we grew older, however, we mastered a few exceptions. An important one involves words that denote time:
Sunday is my favorite day of the week.
As you know by now, after Level One, prepositions never function as nouns. As a result, when readers/hearers perceive a preposition at the beginning of a sentence, they expect the object of that preposition before the subject of the sentence: