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Here's a conversation between a receptionist of a hotel and a man wanting to meet a girl living in the hotel:

Man: Is she in?

Receptionist: Just missed her, actually, but you're welcome to wait.

Man: Okay. Maybe I will. She probably won't be that long, right?

Receptionist: Once she went out and didn't come back for six months. But feel free to sit. Over there.

Man: Over there is where I'll be.

In this context, what is the subject of the last sentence? Over there or where I'll be?

If it's Over there, is this an instance of a prepositional phrase being a subject?

  • If you're only looking at the semantics of the sentence, it means the same thing as I will be over there. In terms of its meaning, the man is the subject. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Dec 26 '18 at 4:57
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    @JasonBassford Do you mean "I" is the subject? If so, that's not the answer I'm looking for. I'm looking for a grammatical subject, if you know what I mean. – JK2 Dec 26 '18 at 5:04
  • The construction of this sentence ascribes a quality to "over there"; it is where I'll be. Does this phrasing help you identify the subject? – R Mac Dec 26 '18 at 8:18
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    I would not say that the sentence ascribes a quality to over there. Instead, it ascribes a location to where I'll be. Red is the colour of the apple. What's the subject of that sentence? Just because something comes before the word is, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's the subject of the sentence. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Dec 26 '18 at 9:54
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    @JasonBassford You seem to be suggesting that in your example Red is not the subject. I'm curious how you can be so sure. If your example were Red is the apple, I'd agree that Red isn't the subject. But in your example, Red can be a noun as well as an adjective, so Red can be the subject. – JK2 Dec 26 '18 at 12:16
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TL;DR The subject of the sentence is indeed the preposition phrase over there.


We normally expect the subjects of sentences to be noun phrases or sometimes clauses. However, they can occasionally be adjective phrases, preposition phrases or even adverb phrases.

Preposition phrases can be the subjects of clauses using specifying, but not ascriptive BE. In the Original Poster's example, BE is being used in its specifying and not ascriptive sense and therefore this preposition phrase is contender for subject of the sentence.

Preposition phrases do sometimes appear as complements at the beginning of clauses which display subject complement inversion—where they are not subjects. However, this usually occurs when the locative phrase occurs with the verb BE used in its ascriptive sense:

Over there are some tweezers.

Here the subject of the clause is some tweezers, and the preposition phrase over there is giving us some information about the location of these tweezers. Notice that the verb BE agrees with tweezers here, and not the preposition phrase over there. However, this is different from the OP's sentence where the verb BE has an equative meaning, and the sentence could be modelled as:

Over there = where I'll be.

Notice that we cannot do this with the other example:

Over there = some tweezers.

These facts would seem to rule out the Original Poster's example being a case of subject complement inversion. It is possible for us to have subject dependent inversion with specifying BE, but only in very flowery poetic type environments, very different from the Original Poster's example:

The king of the meadows am I.

There is no indication that any other phrase has inverted with the phrase over there in this sentence therefore.

The phrase over there, then, is in the canonical subject position, occurring before the verb, and we have good reason to believe it to be th subject.

We could do the subject auxiliary inversion test to double check if over there is the subject. If we turn the sentence into a question, the subject should invert with the auxiliary BE:

Is over there where I'll be?

Here we see the phrase over there has inverted with the verb is giving further evidence that it is the subject.

Lastly, outside of imperative constructions, all well-formed English sentences must include a subject and a predicate. By reducing the sentence using pro-forms to substitute in for these two parts of the clause, we can tell which bit of the original sentence is the subject, by seeing what the subject pronoun is standing in for:

Over there is where I'll be.

It is.

In the second sentence above the word it appears to be standing in for the preposition phrase over there. The verb is is standing in for is where I'll be. Because the subject it has replaced the subject of the original clause, we can see that the subject of the original clause is over there.

In short, all of the evidence points to the preposition phrase over there being the subject of the example sentence.

  • Most puzzling why anyone would want to downvote this answer. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 27 '18 at 0:25
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Oh, didn't you want to download it? ;-) PS Have you finished your PhD? – Araucaria Dec 27 '18 at 0:26
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    *grumble* stoopid autocorrect! No, I’d have to start it first in order to finish it. :-p – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 27 '18 at 0:30
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Oh, I was sure you were already torturing yourself with one ... You should definitely try it. I hope your non PhD adventures are going well. – Araucaria Dec 27 '18 at 0:31
  • I did apply, but sadly not one of the five applicants from my programme got a position. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 27 '18 at 0:33
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The short version: "Over there" is the subject of your sentence.

Why?

A simple rule of thumb is that the subject is what comes before the verb -- this is the case in almost every type of sentence in English, and it's the case here.

But if you want a little deeper understanding, remember that this is a roundabout way of saying

"I'll be over there"

The man could have said it that way, but he didn't.

Also, consider that the sentence uses a stative verb ("is") with a predicate complement ("where I'll be"). The complement essentially gives a new name to the subject. One of the ways to tell if you have a predicate complement is by reversing the sentence -- so

"Where I'll be is over there"

makes sense, even if it sounds a little awkward.

But you don't simply choose one word order over the other willy-nilly, you do it to fit the sentence into the context ( there's that word again) of the overall conversation/text.

First of all, the previous sentence has the receptionist saying

But feel free to sit. Over there.

so "over there" has already been introduced into the conversation. The man could just say "I'll be over there", or "Yes, ma'am" (let's assume "ma'am" for simplicity's sake) , or even just "OK", but he's flirting with the receptionist a little, so he decides to reply

Over there is where I'll be.

So, "over there" is the subject of the sentence because it's become the subject of the conversation.

(I imagine some old WWI veteran sitting in the lobby, overhearing this conversation, getting annoyed at the man's facetiousness, and breaking out into a loud rendition of "Over There!")

  • I also imagine that the man can only be Archie Goodwin because that conversation reads like Rex Stout wrote it). – Spencer Dec 26 '18 at 13:17
  • The dialogue comes from here: planetclaire.tv/quotes/gossipgirl/season-one/the-wild-brunch – Mari-Lou A Dec 26 '18 at 13:32
  • @Mari-LouA That whole script reads like something out of a Nero Wolfe novel. All we need is a fat man, a brownstone on West 35th and a murder or two. – Spencer Dec 26 '18 at 13:49
  • +1 for this: "So 'over there' has already been introduced into the conversation." – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Dec 26 '18 at 14:26
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    @JasonBassford Unfortunately auraucaria muddied the waters by posting a comment under my answer (the one you upvoted) instead of their own (which some unknown person downvoted). – Spencer Dec 26 '18 at 21:18

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