Grammar 101: Subjects and Objects in English

by IDP IELTS — August 20th, 2019

If you want to understand the grammar behind English language, let’s have a look at the subject and object in sentences. As a basic rule: The subject is the person or thing doing something. The object is having something done to it. Also do the grammar quiz on subjects and objects.

Subjects vs Objects in English

Subjects and objects have the opposite functions in a sentence. So, the subject is the ‘doer’ of the action. For example, take the sentence “We are watching Netflix.” Here the subject is the pronoun ‘we’. Objects are the opposite; instead of doing something (like watching Netflix), they are acted upon. Now, let’s look at the sentence “The police gave him a warning.” In this case the pronoun “him” is receiving something (a warning), so that’s the object of a sentence. 

  • Subject pronouns include I, you, he, she, it, we, they, who, and whoever.
  • Object pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, them, whom, and whomever.


Grammar: Subjects in English language explained

Definition of subjects in English language

In English grammar, we use the word ‘subject’ to talk about the person or thing (a noun or pronoun) that does the ‘action.’ Usually, that means that the subject comes before the verb (what are verbs? Grammar 101: Understanding verb tenses). So, the subject of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea that is performing the action.


Examples of subjects in English language
Simple sentences

Very simple sentences in English have one verb and one subject. For example:

  • Jason works. Here, the subject is “Jason.” The verb is “works.” In this example, Jason is the subject, because he is the person doing the action, “working” in this case.
  • Nick sleeps. Nick is the subject, because he’s doing the action of “sleeping”.

The subject doesn’t always have to be a person/name. Very often it is not, but it is a pronoun (for example, he/she/it, etc), or a group of people (we/they). Have a look at the following sentences.

  • I sleep. (The subject is ‘I’ because it’s doing the action of sleeping.)
  • We are watching Netflix. (The subject is ‘we’ because it’s doing the action of watching)
  • They play football. (The subject is ‘they’ because it’s doing the action of playing)


More complicated sentences

Sometimes a sentence is a bit more complicated and it gets a bit harder to find the subject. Have a look at the following examples.

  • I am thirsty. (The subject is ‘I’)
  • Mike appears busy. (The subject is ‘Mike’)
  • The employees are in a meeting. (The subject is ‘the employees’) 
  • The girl from my class presented an excellent speech at graduation. (The subject is ‘the girl from my class’ because she’s doing the action)
  • Gemma, Gillian and Mike are having lunch. (The subject is ‘Gemma, Gillian and Mike’ because it’s doing the action of having lunch)

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Grammar: Objects in English language explained

Definition of objects in English language

Now that you know what subjects are, let’s have a look at the objects. Generally, we use the word ‘object’ to talk about the thing/person that the action is done to. Or, the one who receives the action. 

A direct object is a noun or pronoun that receives the action of a verb in a sentence. Usually, it answers the questions what? or whom? about the verb. Choose the direct object(s) in each sentence.


Examples of direct objects in English language

The direct object of a verb is the thing being acted upon. So, it means it is the receiver of the action. Usually, you can find the direct object by finding the verb and asking “what?” or “whom?”. For example:

  • Mike loves doughnuts. (Mike loves what? The object is ‘doughnuts’.)
  • James got his IELTS scores yesterday. (James got what? The object is ‘his IELTS scores’.)
  • I put the orange cat into the garden. (I put what (into the garden)? The object is ‘the orange cat’.)


Examples of indirect objects in English language

Apart from direct objects, there are also indirect objects. An indirect object is the recipient of the direct object. How do you find an indirect object in a sentence? You can find the indirect object by first finding the direct object. Then, ask “who” or “what” received it. The indirect object will chronologically exist before the direct object in a sentence. Have a look at the example sentences below. We have put the direct objects in bold and underlined the indirect objects.

  • Can you give Tomoko the keys?
  1. Find the direct object: Give what? the keys
  2. Find the indirect object: Who (or what) received the keys? Tomoko
  • The bartender made Gracie an ice-cold drink.
  1. Find the direct object: The bartender made what? An ice-cold drink
  2. The bartender made a cold drink for for whom? Gracie


Examples of the object of a preposition in English language

It gets a little trickier now. We call the noun or pronoun after a preposition the object of a preposition. When you know the direct object, finding an indirect object is fairly simple. Remember, you find a direct object by asking “what?” or “whom?” the verb is doing. Then, to find an indirect object, ask “to whom/what?” or “for whom/what” the direct object is intended. Have a look at the example sentences below. We have put the prepositions in bold and underlined the objects of prepositions.

  • Emily is from Ireland.
  • You can tell from her accent that Emily is from Ireland.

Grammar Quiz: Subjects and objects in English language

Now that you’ve had a look at the grammar rules and some examples, it’s time to try it for yourself. Have a look at the following sentences, and try to find the subject and the object. The answers are given below, so you can check it for yourself.

Quiz: find the subject

Q1: All the children in the class study math.

a) study
c) all the children in the class

Q2: They took the General Training IELTS test for migration purposes.

a) General Training IELTS test
b) They
c) migration purposes

Q3: For lunch, Mike and Gemma ordered burgers and chips.

a) For lunch
b) Mike and Gemma
c) burgers and chips

Q4: Gagan and Daniel received award for players of the year.

a) Gagan
b) Daniel
c) Gagan and Daniel
d) players of the year

Q5: Next year, I want to go to university in Sydney.

a) Next year
c) university in Sydney


Quiz: find the object

Q6: Josh painted a flower for his school project.

a) Josh
c) school project

Q7: The cafe baked their own pies.

a) The cafe
their own pies

Q8: Janet has to practice football every single day if she wants to become a professional.

a) Janet

Q9: The kids built a castle with Lego.

a) The kids
a castle

Q10: I will come over after I do the dishes and finish my homework.

a) I
the dishes
my homework
the dishes + my homework

Answers to the Grammar Quiz: Subjects and objects in English language
  • Q1: c
  • Q2: b
  • Q3: b
  • Q4: c
  • Q5: b
  • Q6: b
  • Q7: c
  • Q8: c
  • Q9: c
  • Q10: d

Want to learn more about commonly confused words?

In written English, it is important to know the correct spelling of a word you want to use. You don’t want to write “weak” when you mean “week” even though they sound the same. In spoken English, spelling is less important, but pronunciation is. Think about the word “lead” which can be pronounced as “led” or “leed.” Because these words cause a lot of confusion, it’s well worth to spend a few minutes to know the difference: homophones vs homographs vs homonyms.

People often use elude when they mean allude, or write allude when they should really write elude. There are other commonly confused words too: Do you know the difference between advice or advise? That is the question of another article where we explain the difference between these two commonly misused words. Read it here.