Maybe this question is too simple but I just can't figure it out. In these sentences which part is the subject?

Did you think I would be sad if you left?


I believe you're making a gross and tragic error.

I don’t think it constitutes a compound subject since there are two verbs and I’m not sure if it would be considered a compound sentence either since there aren’t two independent clauses (I think) joined by a coordinating conjunction such as “and” or “but”.

  • I tried working out an answer here using that, but it got complicated. There is certainly scope for an answer explaining how that works.
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 16 at 9:58
  • Could you please clarify something for me? Are you asking for the subject of the whole sentence, or are you looking for the subject of a particular verb in the sentence? In your first sentence there are three verbs and in your second there are two. Are you looking, perhaps for the subject in the main clause?
    – Tuffy
    Apr 16 at 12:15
  • @Tuffy I'm not completely sure. What I want to do is figure out the semantic role of the subject, e.g. whether it has the role of experiencer or stimulus. But maybe these examples would constitute as having more than one subject?
    – Sandra
    Apr 16 at 13:36
  • 1
    @Tuffy Well, there’s five verbs in (1) and three in (2), strictly speaking. Apr 16 at 16:06
  • 3
    And they all have subjects. Though there's only 3 clauses with subjects in (1), because the auxiliaries have the same subject as their main verb. @Sandra, the rule is "one subject per clause; one clause per main verb". Auxiliaries don't count. But subordinate clauses have their own subjects. Apr 16 at 16:29

1 Answer 1


[1] Did you think [(that) I would be sad if you left?]

[2] I believe [(that) you're making a gross and tragic error].

No, not compound subjects nor compound sentences, though traditional grammar would call them complex sentences.

In each example, the bracketed expression is a subordinate declarative content clause functioning as complement of "think" / "believe". Note that the clause subordinator "that" is optional here.

In simple terms:

In [1] the matrix (or main) clause has "you" as subject and "think" as the 'main' verb, while the subordinate clause has "I" as subject and "be" as the 'main' verb.

In [2] the matrix clause has "I" as subject and "believe" as the verb, while the subordinate clause has "you" as subject and "making" as the 'main' verb.

Note that terms like 'compound' and 'complex' when used to classify sentences are best avoided since they don't always adequately explain the structure of clauses.

  • +1 There’s also you in you left in (1). Apr 16 at 16:07
  • @BillJ Thank you for this answer it really helps! When it comes to questions like this one, can they ever have a 'right' answer or is it something that is basically always up to interpretation? (just curious)
    – Sandra
    Apr 16 at 16:21
  • 1
    @Sandra There is only one answer, and it’s the one BillJ gave you! :) Apr 16 at 16:50
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. I see. Sorry if this is too unrelated, but in (1), what semantic roles would you say that each subject has? Do both "you", as the subject to the verb "think" and "I" as subject to the verb "be" have the role of 'experiencer'?
    – Sandra
    Apr 16 at 17:01
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    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Oh right, thank you for the help!
    – Sandra
    Apr 16 at 20:59

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