Subjects and Objects

Subjects and objects. One would think they are the same thing, or are irrelevant, but most of the problems I see regarding sentence structure, wordiness, and clutter is credited to treating the object like a subject.

Learn the difference and improve your writing by leaps and bounds.

Why should you learn this?

Knowing the difference between a subject and an object in a sentence not only improves your writing. It makes writing easier. So much easier. So what is an object and a subject? Simple.

A subject is what or who the sentence is all about. Every sentence revolves around a noun. That is key, so I will repeat it. Every sentence is about a subject. Whether Max goes to the store, I lost my watch again, or my mother is flying in from Arizona, not one person can form a single sentence without  focusing on a noun: the sentence’s subject.


Rewind and simplify.

Let’s talk about Max’s ball.

Max threw the ball.

Max and the ball are both nouns, but Max is the subject. The ball is the object. He is our hero. Max did the throwing. That is who we are talking about. The ball is the object. The object is what the subject interacted with.

The object is what the subject verbed… every time.  No exceptions. That is really the secret to all of this. The object is what the subject verbed. When you tell me that the subject was verbed by the object, that is a passive voice that unnecessarily adds extra words. Don’t do that. Be direct. The object is what the subject verbed.

Max threw the ball. 

That is pretty straight forward. The object is what the subject verbed. Now let’s place the object into the subject role.

The ball bounced when Max threw it.

The object is now verbing and our subject has been reduced to an afterthought. Seven words later, we’ve made the same point of four words.  Compare:

Max dropped the ball.

(The subject verbed the object)

The ball bounced when Max threw it.

(The object verbed, and the subject is introduced as an afterthought)

Here is one of my favorites.

Max’s hand dropped the ball.

In this case, the subject (Max) has been completely removed from the sentence and an inanimate thing has replaced our hero, Max. Here’s the other problem with this set up. Hands are not sentient.

Sentient: Able to perceive or feel things.

Sentient things must have a brain. Max has a brain. He has a consciousness. This is very important in sentence structure. Max’s hands do not have a brain, nor do they have a consciousness, ergo they can not throw. Max can. Hands are just the tools Max uses to throw. Max makes the conscious effort to throw the ball. Action through verbs implies choice. To say Max’s hands threw the ball is like saying Max threw the ball with his hands. Let’s try this example.

The hammer pounded in the nails.

Really? That’s one impressive hammer. Remember: Action through verbs implies choice.Can you see anyone holding the hammer? I don’t know about you, but I see no one holding the hammer. I see a magic hammer randomly pounding in nails. Let’s add a sentient subject…one with brains.

The zombie used Max’s hammer to pound in the nails.

Now we’re stating the obvious. Unless the zombie is using a rock to pound in the nails, we don’t need to state that the zombie is using a hammer.

The zombie pounded in the nails.

“The zombie used Max’s hammer to pound in the nails” is a cluttered mess that states the obvious.


How do I fix this?

Keep your subject in the limelight. Always present your subject before the object. When editing always look for the subject. Identify what the subject is “verbing.” Practice simplifying those sentences by always putting that subject before the object. Now, that’s not to say an adverbial clause, modifier, or preposition won’t lead a sentence.

Last Saturday, Max threw the ball.

As I was walking to the store, Max threw the ball.

Under the bridge, Max threw the ball.

In every case Max came before the ball. Every time.

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