For example, if I tell

“I'm write-only”

am I perceived as subject (who is writing) or as an object (who is written)?

Related question:

  • 1
    Your sentence makes absolutely no sense.
    – rogermue
    Jun 12, 2015 at 18:47

3 Answers 3


You should be careful to distinguish between syntactical labels and semantic labels. Subject and object are syntactic terms: they mostly say something about the form of the sentence, the way it is ordered. Agent and patient are semantic terms: they apply to meaning only.

(Note that the word "I" is one of the few words in English that can only be used as subject (or subject complement). You can't say "the dog beats I": if "I" is object, it should be "me".)

I beat the dog.

The agent of a sentence is the person or thing that acts upon some other thing. The patient is the person or thing that is acted upon. "I" is the person that acts, so that "I" is the agent. "The dog" is the patient.

The subject of the sentence can be found by answering the question: who is it that "beat"? - It is I who beat the dog. Therefore "I" is also the subject. You need to always take the full predicate, that is all the verbs in the clause, in your question to determine the subject.

The dog was beaten by me.

Who is the person that acts? - Me. Therefore "me" is the agent. Who is it that "was beaten"? - The dog. Therefore "the dog" is the subject. As you see, in passive constructions the subject is usually the patient (or recipient: there are more than just two semantic roles).

[Edited:] In your example "I am write only", the subject is "I", as Red showed. But I think you want to know whether "I" is the agent or patient of "write" in your sentence. That depends on the meaning of the sentence, which is not clear without context. Since "write-only" is mostly used with computer memory, I will assume that you mean "I" to be analogous to this memory. The sentence to be analysed would then be "this memory is write only".

We could then ask this question: "when someone writes data to a disk, who is it that acts, and who is it that is acted upon?". It is evident that "someone" is the agent, and "a disk" is the thing that is acted upon: therefore the disk is the patient. It follows that in "this memory is write only", the memory is the patient in the context of writing data; the adjective "write-only" must therefore accompany its patient. This means that "I" in your sentence is most probably patient.


In the sentence "I am write-only" the verb is not "write" but "am" (i.e. to be). In that sentence "I" is the subject. You are the subject of the sentence. The sentence is describing you.

  • 4
    The verb is actually be. (^_^)
    – RegDwigнt
    Feb 17, 2011 at 11:10

Just remember the sentence:

I love you.

I is the subject of the sentence. You is the object of the sentence and also the object of my affection. How’s that? You are the object of my affection and the object of my sentence. It’s like a Valentine’s Day card and grammar trick all rolled into one.

The subject is the person or thing doing something, and the object is having something done to it.

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