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Here is a sentence that I need help with:

Across the road lived her boyfriend.

Here, live(lived) is the verb. What is the subject? I think it should be 'Her'. Because, we are talking about her boyfriend, living across the road. Am I right? (or) should boyfriend be the subject?

Or are there two subjects here?

The same with another sentence:

The insurance agent gave her sound advice.

Verb: Gave Subject: agent or her?

Please help me with my confusion around subjects. Thank you.

migrated from english.stackexchange.com May 25 '17 at 16:10

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

  • @Cascabel Because the OP isn't asking what the meaning of the sentence is-which would make it an ELL question-but what the syntax of the sentence is, this question belongs here. Whether it is too basic or not is up for debate. – Araucaria May 21 '17 at 22:09
  • @AraucariaMan I did not vote to migrate, only to close for lack of research. And there is little doubt in my mind that the OP will be more comfortable on Learners. – Cascabel May 21 '17 at 22:17
  • Her can't be the subject, because her is not a noun, and even if she was the subject of the sentence, the subjective is she, not her. – stangdon May 25 '17 at 23:20
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The subject is "Her boyfriend". This is just a subject-verb inversion according Longman Student's Grammar of Spoken and Written English.

Across the road her boyfriend lived

This inversion is very likely to be used when the sentence has an initial adverbial (like accross the road) and a short intransitive verb (like live here).

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    Agreed, but let's help OP learn to figure this out. Mohamed, after you've identified the main verb, ask yourself who is carrying out that action, i.e. Who lived etc.? Since the answer to that question is "her boyfriend," that means that the subject is "her boyfriend." – aparente001 May 22 '17 at 4:24
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    @aparente001 Yes, you are cooking with gas! But I think the semantic test doesn't always work, especially in non-cannonical clauses and clauses with a dummy subject. I prefer substitution test. After you undo the inversion, replace the suspected noun with an appropriate form of pronoun in a nominative case. If it works, it's the subject. "Across the road he lived". – user178049 May 22 '17 at 4:47
  • @user178049 You mean "Across the road lived he", presumably? – Araucaria May 22 '17 at 8:13
  • @AraucariaMan I think that should be correct, but it doesn't sound right. – user178049 May 22 '17 at 8:17
  • There are so many ways someone could apply your test wrong, though, for example, Across the road lived her boyfriend with his twins. Someone could replace "his twins" with "them," which is a pronoun. Look, I'm not proposing a foolproof test, just a simple first approximation that a beginner may find helpful. – aparente001 May 23 '17 at 0:19
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Across the road lived her boyfriend.

First of all we will try to figure out the subject of the sentence. There are ways to identify it. One such method is to turn the sentence into an interrogative sentence, and see what follows the auxiliary verb.

Across the road lived her boyfriend ----turning into interrogative----> did [her boyfriend] lived across the road?

what followed the auxiliary verb - did - is [her boyfriend]. So it's clear that the subject is - her boyfriend.

"Her" can't be the subject on it's own. Because it's not the head of the phrase - her boyfriend - it's a dependent. The whole Noun Phrase - her boyfriend - is the subject.

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