What are subject and object?

What are subject and object?
Subjects and objects in sentences, plus subject-verb agreement – primary-school grammar terms explained for parents, with examples.

What are the subject and object in a sentence?

Many sentences contain subjects, verbs and objects. 

The subject is usually the thing or person who is carrying out an action.

The object is the thing or person that is involved in an action, but does not carry it out.

In the following sentence:

The man is the subject because he is doing something (eating a cream cake). The word 'ate' is the verb. The cream cake is the object. (Find out more about verbs and direct objects in our parents' guide to transitive and intransitive verbs.)

What is subject-verb agreement?

Singular subjects need singular verbs (a dog loves a bone); plural subjects need plural verbs (dogs love a bone). This is called subject-verb agreement.

Tricky cases to watch out for:

  • Pronouns such as everyone and everybody are always singular, so they need a singular verb. (Everyone likes ice-cream, or Everybody went to the park.)
  • Pronouns like all or some can be plural (if the people or things referred to by the pronoun can be counted: some boys, all children) or singular (if the people or things referred to by the pronoun cannot be counted but are seen as a singular quantity: some sugar, all the flour).
  • None can be used as a singular or plural pronoun (None of them is... / None of them are...).

How are children taught about subject and object in the classroom?

Since May 2013 children in Year 6 have taken a KS2 Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test as part of their English SATs. Prior to this, teachers did not usually teach primary-school children about subjects and objects, but now it has become more important for them to know these grammatical terms.

This is an example question involving subject-verb agreement from the 2013 KS2 Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling past paper (download the whole KS2 English SATs 2013 paper for free from TheSchoolRun):

The question could equally be worded: 'Tick the sentence which is grammatically correct', however the question above requires children to actually understand what a subject is, what a verb is and the concept of them both 'agreeing'.

In this case, a child would need to recognise that the second and third sentences each have a subject which agrees with the verb.

Children are formally taught to identify the subject and object in a sentence in Year 6 (as part of the new national curriculum, revised in 2014).

Primary-school grammar information, worksheets and games

For more advice about grammar in primary school, including practical resources, visit our Grammar hub.