Subject, Verb, Complement and Modifier


Definition: The subject of a sentence is the noun, pronoun or noun phrase that precedes and governs the main verb. The subject is the part of the sentence that performs an action or which is associated with the action.

For example:

  1. David plays the piano
  2. The subject “David” performs the action of “playing the piano”.
  3. The police interviewed all the witnesses.
  4. The subject the police performs the action of interviewing all the witnesses.

To determine the subject of a sentence, first isolate the verb and then make a question by placing “who?” or “what?” before it. Having identified the Subject, we can see that the remainder of the sentence tells us what the Subject does or did. We refer to this string as the “predicate” of the sentence.

For example:

  1. Who interviewed all the witnesses?
  • “The police” (= Subject)
  • “interviewed all the witnesses” ( = predicate) tell us what the police did.

Subjects can either be “simple”, “compound” or “complex”

Simple Subject
Composed of a single pronoun, noun or noun phrase.

Complex Subject
A complex subject consists of a noun phrase and any words, phrases, or clauses that modify it.

For example:

  1. The superior performance of La Traviata pleased the wealthy audience.
  • central noun: performance
  • complex subject: the superior performance of La Traviata

Compound Subject
A compound subject consists of two or more noun phrases (and their modifiers if any) joined together with a coordinating conjunction.

For example:

  1. Neither the superior performance of La Traviata nor the excellent wine at intermission pleased the wealthy audience.
  • Again, the whole phrase, “neither the superior performance of La Traviata nor the excellent wine at intermission,” is the subject. The phrase answers the question, “What pleased the wealthy audience?”


Definition: Verbs are a class of words used to show the performance of an action (do, throw, run), existence (be), possession (have), or state (know, love) of a subject. To put it simply a verb shows what something or someone does.

For example:

  1. We buy some books to learn English verbs.
  2. In this example, the action word is “to buy”. It tells us that the subject “we”, that is the person who performs the action of the verb is “buying some books”.

The verb tense shows the time of the action or state. Aspect shows whether the action or state is completed or not. Voice is used to show relationships between the action and the people affected by it. Mood shows the attitude of the speaker about the verb, whether it is a declaration or an order. Verbs can be affected by person and number to show agreement with the subject.

Most statements in speech and writing have a main verb. These verbs are expressed in “tenses” which place everything in a point in time.

Verbs are conjugated (inflected) to reflect how they are used. There are two general areas in which conjugation occurs; for person and for tense.

Conjugation for tense
Conjugation for tense is carried out on all verbs. All conjugations start with the infinitive form of the verb.
The infinitive is simply the to form of the verb For example, to begin.
The present participle form (the -ing form), is formed by adding ing to the bare infinitive. For example, to begin – beginning.
There are two other forms that the verb can take, depending on the tense type and time, the simple past form and the past participle.

The form of the verb or its tense can tell when events take place.
For example, the verb kiss:

Present Simple: kiss/kisses
Past Simple: kissed
Future Simple: will kiss
Present Perfect: has/have kissed
Past Perfect: had kissed
Future Perfect: will have kissed
Present Continuous (Progressive): is/am/are kissing
Past Continuous (Progressive): was kissing
Future Continuous (Progressive): will be kissing
Present Perfect Continuous (Progressive): has/have been kissing
Past Perfect Continuous (Progressive): had been kissing
Future Perfect Continuous (Progressive): will have been kissing

Conjugation for person
Conjugation for person occurs when the verb changes form, depending on whether it is governed by a first, second, or third person subject. This gives three conjugations for any verb depending on who is acting as the subject of the verb. For example: we have I begin, you begin , and he begins. Note that only the third conjunction really shows a difference.

In English, we distinguish between regular and irregular verbs. Regular verbs are those ones which form their past simple and past participle just by adding “-ed” to the base of the verb. The rest are irregular.


  • Dracula bites his victims on the neck.
  • In early October, Giselle will plant twenty tulip bulbs.
  • She travels to work by train.
  • We walked five miles to a garage.


A complement is the part of a Sentence that comes after the Verb and is needed to make the sentence complete. The following are the most important types of complement used in English:


Eg: He’s a surveyor. (The Subject is completed by the complement to the verb. This is a Copula Verb.


Eg: She sent him the fax. (The sentence is completed by telling us what she sent to him.)


Eg: They’ll be happy. (The sentence is completed by the Adjective; this could be extended further, they’ll be happy to see us, etc..)


Eg: They talked about what needed doing. (The sentence is completed by the Phrase linked to the verb by the Preposition.)


tells the time, place or manner of the action. Very often it’s a prepositional phrase. Prepotional phrase is a group of words that begins with a preposition and ends with a noun.
Note : A modifier of time usually comes last if more than one modifier is present.
Example of prepositional phrases :
In the morning, at university, on the table
A modifier can also be an adverb or an adverbial phrase :
Last night, hurriedly, next year, outdoors, yesterday
Example : John bought a book at the bookstore
(modifier place)
Jill was swimming in the pool yesterday
(modifier of place)(modifier of time)
Note :
The modifier normally follows the complement, but not always. However, the modifier, especially when it’s a prepositional phrase, usually can’t separate the verb and the complement.
Example : She drove the car on the street
(verb) (complement)

  1. George is cooking         dinner               tonight

     Subject   Verb Phrase   Complement     Modifier of Time

  1. Henry and Marcia have visited       the president

          Subject        Verb Phrase       Complement    

  1. We can eat           lunch           in this restaurant           today

    Subject     Verb         Complement     Modifier of Place   Modifier of Time

  1. Pat should have bought     gasoline               yesterday

    Subject         Verb Phrase         Complement       Modifier of Time

  1. Tress grow

    Subject     Verb

  1. It was raining     at seven o’clock this morning

    Subject   Verb Phrase          Modifier of Time

  1. She opened a checking account         at the bank               last week

    Subject       Verb           Complement         Modifier of Place     Modifier of Time

  1. Harry is washing        dishes               right now

    Subject     Verb Phrase   Complement   Modifier of Time

  1. She opened       her book

    Subject       Verb       Complement

  1. Paul, William and Mary were watching       television       a few minutes ago

Subject                 Verb Phrase         Complement     Modifier of Time

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