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Also in Linguistics what is a subject?

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closed as general reference by RiMMER, Mehper C. Palavuzlar, Matt Эллен, JSBձոգչ, Daniel Dec 7 '11 at 18:06

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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

In the English language we have only vestiges of case, like the nominative and the accusative that you mention. You can find them in pronouns:

Nominative: I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they. Accusative: me, you, him, her, it, us, you, them.

The nominative case is used for the subject of the verb, i.e. the word which denotes who/what does what the verb says. The accusative case marks the object of the verb, i.e. the word which receives the action of the verb (when there is such a receiver):

He offended me. He: nominative, subject of the verb. Me: accusative, object of the verb.

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Excellent "Goldilocks" answer - not too long, not too short. I like that you start off by pointing out that "case" is becoming vestigial in English. –  FumbleFingers Dec 7 '11 at 14:11
    
@FumbleFingers: Not for the genitive, though. –  Barrie England Dec 7 '11 at 14:52
    
Oh, the genitive's vestigial, too. It's no longer a case, since it modifies (and attaches to the last word of) a noun phrase, not a noun. The King of England's sword puts the genitive on England, not King. It's become what's called a _Clitic_, a morpheme that attaches to a word but refers to a phrase or clause. So it's only pronouns in English that have any cases. –  John Lawler Dec 7 '11 at 16:23
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In many languages, nominative is the case that typically marks subjects while accusative is the case that typically marks objects. In modern English, these cases are only marked in the personal pronouns. For example, I is marked for nominative case and me is marked for accusative. Other terms are also used for these cases.

There are instances where it is grammatical for pronouns marked for other cases take over these functions. Genitives like my, for instance, can function as the subject of a participial clause (e.g., He hated my getting the position over him, where my is the subject of getting the position).

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According the A Student's Introduction to English Grammar, a subject is

"The function in clause structure (usually filled by an NP; before the predicate in canonical clauses) that in active clauses describing action normally denotes the actor: Ed ran away."

In addition, in present tense clauses, there will typically be number agreement between the verb and the subject.

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