As you are probably aware, our contemporary English content is now available through (, and our old English dictionary site no longer exists.

As a result of this, this forum is now closed.

The English dictionary community team would like the opportunity to say a huge thanks to all of you who participated by posting questions and helping other community members.
We hope this forum was useful, and that you enjoyed being a part of it.

If you would like to get in touch with any OED-related queries, please write to
[email protected]

And if you would like to contribute suggestions to the OED, please do so by visiting:

Thank you very much indeed, and good bye!
The community team

Verb "Acting" as the Subject?

Are there any instances in which a verb can double as the subject of the same sentence? I am having a debate with a teacher, and she has given me a few examples; however, a few of them were wrong, insofar as she used an imperative and I argued that the implied "you" is the subject (e.g., Mow the lawn.)

She returned volley with another example where the answer isn't so cut and dried, though I initially argued that the implied "you" served as the subject again. After more thought, I don't think the subject is who did the arranging; I think the subject is whatever "proved to be...," which was the arranging:

**"Arranging the preliminary events in chronological order proved to be the most efficient means of studying them." **

Running the risk of sounding stupid, I have to ask—what is the subject? :blush:

I normally argue until the cows come home, but in this instance, I am not wholeheartedly convinced that I am right (don't tell her that, though).


  • @richierich

    **"Arranging the preliminary events in chronological order proved to be the most efficient means of studying them." **

    Running the risk of sounding stupid, I have to ask—what is the subject?

    The subject of the whole sentence is the non-finite clause

    Arranging the preliminary events in chronological order

    The whole sentence is a finite clause, is so it is composed of

    • a subject
      (see above)

    • a finite verb form

    • what in some terminology is the complement of the verb
      to be the most efficient means of studying them

    This 'complement' in turn is composed of

    • a non-finite verb form
      to be

    • the 'complement' of the verb
      the most efficient means of studying them

    This 'complement' in turn is composed of

    • a noun phrase
      the most efficient means

    • a postmodifier
      of studying them

    This postmodifier is a prepositional phrase, which in turn is composed of

    • a preposition

    • what in different terminologies may be called the 'complement' or the 'object' of the preposition
      studying them

    So this sentence contains two long non-finite clauses

    • arranging the preliminary events in chronological order
    • to be the most efficient means of studying them

    The second of these contains a third non-finite clause

    • studying them

    Non-finite clauses differ from finite clauses in two ways:
    1. Taking do as example the possible verb forms are: doing, done, do, to do, to have done, having done.
    2. Usually there is no subject.

    Older grammar books don't recognise the term non-finite clause, but it's a very useful was of looking at structure. Apart from the two differences above, the structure of a non-finite clause is exactly the same as that of a finite clause.

    Both types of clause are based on a verb form with the structure decided by the verb. For example

    • If the verb is make, then there must be an object.
    • If the verb is exist, then there can't be an object.
    • If the verb is give, then there must be one object, and there may be two (direct object and indirect object)

    Whether the clause is finite or non-finite the same adverbial elements may be added:

    • Finite
      I'll come on Monday. I'll definitely come. I'll come when you've finished.

    • Non-fiinite
      coming on Monday, definitely coming, coming when you've finished
      to come on Monday, to definitely come (not in formal writing), to come when you've finished.

    Some grammar books define a subject according to its meaning of 'doer'. But it's useful to distinguish between an agent ('doer') and a grammatical subject. Quite often they are the same thing — but not always.

    And some grammar books don't recognise the difference between a sentence and a clause.
    A simple sentence may consist of just one finite clause — but not all sentences are simple. Old-fashioned grammar books use the terms compound and complex for sentences with more than one finite clause. Your sentence is just one finite clause, but within it there are three structures based on non-finite verb forms.

    I realise that I'm using grammatical terms that you (and your teacher) are not used to. It may be possible to answer your question using old-fashioned traditional terms, but I think that the new terms make it much easier.

  • Sir, I truly appreciate such a detailed disaggregation of the sentence—truly, truly impressive! There is a lot to unpack there, and a lot of terms with which I am not very familiar, but I will digest it ALL and continue to explore some of these newfound terms.

    ...but, more simply, this so-called "non-finite clause" is what cough old(er) people used to call a gerund clause (or a gerund-participial clause)? I used to dabble with restrictive/non-restrictive clauses, but "non-finite" clauses are Greek to me. :)

    Again, many, many thanks, sir. Good stuff!

  • @richerich, I think the best starting point for your exploration may be the terms FINITE and NON-FINITE — because the term FINITE is used in older traditional grammars, and there is no conflict between traditional and modern grammars in what it means.

    The NON-FINITE form of a verb are of three types


      • to-infinitive_ — e.g. _ I want to leave, It's time to leave, To leave will be a pleasure._
      • bare infinitive — e.g. I may leave, I saw her leave
      • perfect infinitive — e.g._ I except him to have left_
    2. PAST PARTICIPLE (often passive in meaning)

      • We saw it left behind. _ Left alone, I shouted for help_
    3. -ing-FORMS (called present participles or gerunds in older grammars)

      • 'present' — e.g. I hate leaving . Leaving the house, he met Jane. an excuse for leaving
      • perfect — e.g. She regrets having left. Having left the house early, I didn't see him. __
      • 'present' passive — e.g. I remember being left. Being left is not much fun. He's angry about being left
      • perfect passive — e.g. Having been left by the enemy, it became one of our guns

    The FINITE forms of leave are:
    is leaving
    was leaving
    has left
    had left
    has been leaving
    had been leaving

    is left
    was left
    is being left
    was being left
    has been left
    had been left

    Two other PSSIVE forms are grammatical, but extremely rare
    has been being left
    had been being left

    Other FINITE forms are possible when leave is combined with verbs like will or can.

Sign In or Register to comment.