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I'm having difficulty figuring out the subject and object in the following sentence:

Give me that pencil.

The confusion is since someone is requesting the pencil, should they be the subject? In which case the pencil is the object? Or is the pencil the subject, and the person who is implied in the giving the object. How is it determined? Thanks.

  • What do you mean by "in commands"? Do you mean in the imperative? There is often no object: Shut up! Come down! Listen up! Drop dead! Carry on! – Lambie Apr 18 at 15:17
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You're on the right track when you use the term implied, because the subject of the sentence is the implied you, even though the word you is not in the sentence. This answer, by the way, is from a non-grammarian.

The sentence as it is, is in the imperative mode, which we use to give commands or make requests. You could expand the sentence and not change its basic meaning by saying:

"[You] give [to] me the pencil."

The OBJECT is the pencil. The implied SUBJECT is the implied (i.e., missing) you. The person who gives the pencil to the requester is the subject, since in an imperative sentence, the person who is "subjected to" the command can say yes or no. As we sometimes say, "The ball is in his court."

If, as a parent of a preschooler, I see my child playing with a sharpened pencil, I will say to him, "Give me the pencil!" (Actually, I would more than likely snatch it from his hand.) The child could decide no, and keep the pencil. We could say he is disobeying an "order" from his boss by refusing to be the subject of my imperative.

That, however, is part of the risk of issuing commands: the one to whom the command is given can say yes, no, or "later, dude."

That's how it goes when two people have their eye on the same object, which is in the possession of one of them. The person who holds the pencil in his hand is really the subject of the command. If he says no, a fight might ensue. If he says yes and hands it over, the case is closed (for now). Of course he could ruin the pencil by breaking it in half, but that scenario is for another day.

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  • This answer is more coherent to me, I wonder why no upvotes? – Chibueze Opata Jun 15 '13 at 0:32
  • I don't know, Chibueze Opata, but thank you for your compliment! Best wishes to you. – rhetorician Jun 15 '13 at 0:42
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You can tell that the subject is you because of the way the reflexive works. Only transitive verbs can take objects, and when the subject is the same as the object of a transitive verb, one has to use the reflexive pronoun (the ones that end in -self/selves). That's the rule; anything else produce ungrammaticality
[an asterisk * before a sentence marks ungrammaticality]:

  • I saw him/her/you/them, but *I saw me.
  • She saw him/you/them/me, but *She saw her.

  • I saw myself, but *I saw himself/herself/yourself/themselves.

  • She saw herself, but *She saw himself/myself/yourself/themselves.

In an imperative, the same rule applies, but the subject isn't actually present:

  • Give me the book, but *Give myself the book. (first person reflexive is ungrammatical)
  • *Give you the book, but Give yourself the book. (second person reflexive is grammatical)
  • Give her the book, but *Give herself the book. (third person reflexive is ungrammatical)

Since only the second person reflexive object is grammatical, it follows from the reflexive rule that the subject has to be second person, i.e, you.

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  • OMG. I never knew I was this bad at English. I barely understand anything from your answer. You're saying the subject is you but no object? – Chibueze Opata Jun 15 '13 at 0:31
  • "I decided to give ,myself the book for Christmas". "They gave themselves a hard time when they blew the trial"."I'm giving myself a hard time for thinking that". – Lambie Apr 18 at 15:11
  • All perfectly grammatical, of course, since they're not imperatives and therefore don't have missing second-person subjects. – John Lawler Apr 18 at 16:18
  • Your answer is very confusing: "Give me the book, but Give myself the book. (first person reflexive is ungrammatical)". Isn't "give myself the book" *first person reflexive?? – Lambie Apr 18 at 16:46
  • *Tell myself what you think about this sentence. It's an ungrammatical imperative because the subject of an imperative is not first person. – John Lawler Apr 18 at 17:00
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The subject is "you", the one that have to give you the pencil, that is the object of the verb, in fact answers to the question "what?".

The imperative form's conjugation of the verb "to give" is clear in this case:

http://www.verbix.com/webverbix/English/give.html

-
you  give
-
we   Let´s give
you  give
-

The one that ask for the pencil answers to the question "to whom?". I cannot find a translation in English for this kind of complement, likely is "indirect complement". I write some translations in romance languages:

ESP: Complemento indirecto ITA: Complemento di termine FRA: Complément d'objet indirect ROM: Complementul indirect

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