Every once in a while I stumble upon this phrase:

... is subject to considerable debate

Examples are easily found on the web, for instance:

In the context of suspected cognitive disorders, the validity of memory complaints is subject to considerable debate

However, this phrase does not seem grammatically correct to me. I could expect it to be:

... is a subject for considerable debate

in which case 'subject' is a noun, or:

... is subjected to considerable debate

where 'subject' is a verb in past participle.

Still, both alternatives are much less common, judging by the number of occurrences in Google, than the original phrase. So here are the questions:

  1. Is this phrase appropriate for formal writing?
  2. Is it appropriate for less formal conversation?
  3. Finally, is 'subject' in this phrase a noun or verb?
    1. Where should I put the stress when I read the phrase aloud?
  • 9
    It's neither: it's an adjective, reflecting in its sense the Latin passive participle from which the word (in all three senses) is derived. Jan 15, 2014 at 19:21
  • 5
    Which is to say that in English this subject is a Predicate Adjective, the main predicate in the verb phrase is subject to considerable debate. As a predicate adjective, it requires an auxiliary be (that's the is), and it is intransitive (so it requires a preposition to marking any object). The combination has become iconic in lawyerly language, which means we're stuck with it forever. Jan 15, 2014 at 19:54

1 Answer 1


Using the comments posted to the original question, I can assume the whole answer, which is:

  1. Yes, it is appropriate for formal writing.
  2. No, it probably won't fit in a casual informal conversation.
  3. 'subject' is an adjective, therefore its form is perfectly correct.
    1. The stress should be on the first syllable as ['sʌbʤekt].

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