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I am having trouble identifying the simple subject in this sentence: One of the problems facing journalism today is false news and disinformation

I believe it is one. A friend of mine, however, is of the opinion that it ought to be journalism

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    It is the entire NP One of the problems.
    – user405662
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 17:56
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    "Simple subject" is not a valid concept. It means a single word that the teacher can point at. It isn't the subject, which are normally full noun phrases, with modifying determiners, adjectives, phrases, and clauses. Everything that comes before is in the example sentence is the subject of the sentence; it's a noun phrase with a modifying reduced relative clause. Don't ask about the "simple subject" because it doesn't exist. Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 18:34
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    The term "simple subject" is nevertheless used by certain grammarians: grammar-monster.com/glossary/simple_subject.htm.
    – LPH
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 20:44
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    @LPH Indeed. In spite of the VTC, I thought there was an opportunity here to set a precedent. Even if the answer is "does not exist", it should be here. Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 20:49
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    @user405662 The real noun phrase to be taken as the subject is in fact "One of the problems facing journalism today". The particular problem being referred to is of the type of those that journalism is faced with, and, at that, not all the time, but today.
    – LPH
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 20:57

2 Answers 2

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As noted in the comments, many grammarians avoid the phrase "simple subject". When it is used, it usually refers to the word that heads the subject. In your sentence, that would be the pronoun "one". (The prepositional phrase "of the problems facing journalism today" can be considered a modifier, describing "one".)

For reference, CoGEL (Quirk, et al.) (section 6.54) gives the following example, in which the pronoun "one" has "head function":

one of the boys/pens


In a comment, you wrote: "But the simple subject is always a single word in the complete subject, is it not?" Consider this sentence:

Where you go is unimportant.

This sentence's subject is the clause "where you go", which does not seem to contain any good candidate for simple subject: Neither "where" nor "go" typically functions as a subject, and "you" is certainly not what is unimportant.

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  • Well, only if the Subject is an NP in the first place. Many subjects aren’t. Your description makes failed the Subject That she failed is hardly surprising. Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 17:28
  • ‘the so-called simple subject of That she failed is hardly surprising. Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 19:22
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. I think that I addressed that issue in the second part of my answer. I gave an example sentence that has an entire clause as its subject and in which case it doesn't make sense in my opinion to talk about a "simple subject". The same is true of your example sentence. Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 20:30
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"Simple subject" is not a valid concept.

It means a single word that the teacher can point at. It isn't the subject, which are normally full noun phrases, with modifying determiners, adjectives, phrases, and clauses.

Everything that comes before 'is' in the example sentence is the subject of the sentence; it's a noun phrase with a modifying reduced relative clause.

Don't ask about the "simple subject" because it doesn't exist.

-John Lawler


In a now-deleted comment, Cascabel said...

..."journalism" here is part of a reduced relative clause modifying "problems" ....definitely not the entire subject; just part of the Noun Phrase.

If "journalism" were the actual subject, it could be read as...

"Journalism (today) is false news and disinformation",

which is possibly a true statement when applied to some news sources these days, but obviously not the intent of the writer.

To summarize...

Identifying a simple subject in a complicated sentence could be compared to applying Bohr's model of the atom to an E8 lattice structure.

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    The comparison in the last sentence is placed at such a high-level that it will require the combined skills of a grammarian and a physicist in order to become meaningful.
    – LPH
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 20:38

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