Subject and Object pronoun [Doers and receivers of actions?]

Tenacious Learner

Senior Member
Spanish
Hi teachers,
More or less definitions for subject and object pronouns are like this:
Subject pronouns are used to substitute the names of the people or things that perform actions.
Object pronouns are used to substitute the names of the people or things that are affected by an action.
How about this one for example?
The book is on the table.
It is on the the table.

There's no action there. How can I explain that to the students and myself?

Thanks in advance.


 
  • boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    You simply tell them that not all verbs are action verbs - there are state verbs and particularly the verb 'to be' is a link verb. With link verbs you can still have a pronoun 'it' in subject position, but what follows the verb (in your example 'on the table') is a subject complement that does not take any action.
     

    Tenacious Learner

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Hi boozer,
    Thanks a lot for your help. And so that happens with this one too. Right?
    This book is for Mary.
    It is for her.

    TS
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    In linguistics they teach you that the verb 'to be', a link verb, can be seen more or less as an equal sign between sentence subject and what follows. What follows is usually some information about the sentence subject, so you cannot say that any action is transferred onto it from the subject. There are some examples here for your information:
    http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/linkingverb.htm
     

    Tenacious Learner

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Hi boozer,
    I really appreciate your reply and link.:thumbsup:
    Having said that, It will be a good idea to add this information in my manuscript, 'Linking verbs do not express actions. Instead, they connect the subject of the verb to additional information about the subject. Don't you think so?
    There's an 's' needed after 'action', isn't there?

    TS
     

    Giorgio Spizzi

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Hola, Thinking.

    It's always rather problematic to try to give a definition of "subject". I personally avoid the use of expressions like "perform an action" as much as I possibly can. Obviously, there are "actions", but there are also processes and states. Therefore, in order not to have to "readjust" my definition each time a new reality pops up, I prefer to:

    1. talk about TWO subjects — the subject who produces a sentence and the subject OF the sentence — obviously the two subjects can refer to the same entity;
    2. define the latter as " the noun, noun phrase or pronoun about which something is said (by the subject who produces the sentence). The "something" is called Predicate.

    GS

    I believe this can be used for defining the subjectS in most languages (Spanish included :)).
    I usually employ two different letters to refer to the two subjects: S ("subject") for the subject of the sentence, and ("signa") for the utterer of the sentence — in other words the "∑peaker". :)

    Saludos.

    GS
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The traditional definitions are completely wrong. They don't distinguish between syntax and semantics. Take an active/passive pair like

    (1) The dog bit the man.
    (2) The man was bitten by the dog.

    In both, 'the dog' is the one performing the action. "Performing the action" is a semantic concept. 'The dog' in (1) and 'the man' in (2) are the subjects of the sentence; this is a syntactic concept. The subject is the noun phrase that (a) triggers verb agreement (in typical European languages including English and Spanish), (b) precedes the verb (in a typical unemphatic statement - again in typical European languages), and various other syntactic properties, depending on language. In an English two-actant sentence (one with both subject and object), the subject coordinates with the sole actant of a one-actant (intransitive) sentence:

    (3) The dog ran away.
    (4) The dog bit the man and ran away. (= 1 + 3)
    (5) The man was bitten by the dog and ran away. :)cross:if 2 + 3 but :tick: if common subject 'the man' is coordinated)

    The standard term for the doer of an action is the agent. The dog is the agent of (1) and (2). The man is the patient of (1) and (2).

    Next you need to talk about prototypical situations or uses. In a prototypical situation, the agent is used as subject, and the patient is used as object. So active (1) is more prototypical, or less marked, than the more unusual passive (2). So you start by talking about sentences of biting and hitting, and having made this distinction, move on to loving and fearing. Neither verb has an agent or patient because in love and fear no-one is performing anything or having anything performed on them. So we use new semantic role terms such as stimulus and experiencer. In the following two, spiders are the stimulus and the boy the experiencer:

    (6) The boy fears spiders.
    (7) Spiders frighten the boy.
     
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    Giorgio Spizzi

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Certainly, entangled.

    I'd add that there are other types of sentence where the traditional categories won't apply easily: e.g. "You'll receive the money by the end of the month".
    Here "you" is the subject, but the notion that "receiving the money" is an action is rather counterintuitive.

    GS :)
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Wow, this is all very good, Giorgio and ETB, but we really don't know how old TS's students are. This may be way too academic for them. :)

    (As always, I am happy to learn some new terminology :D )
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Wow, this is all very good, Giorgio and ETB, but we really don't know how old TS's students are. This may be way too academic for them.
    Very relevant. At secondary level, I would prefer to say that fearing is 'an action, so to speak' and leave it at that, unless questioned about it.
    If questioned, I would explain briefly in non-technical terms, and add that for simplicity and to save time I would continue using expressions like 'action, so to speak' or 'as it were'.
     
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    Giorgio Spizzi

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Thank you, boo. Matter of fact, mine is a home-made labeling.
    I believe very much in the necessity for students — of whatever age — to become aware of the fascinating complexity of speech (and communication). Besides, their being constantly exposed to sophisticated subjects such as maths and geometry encourages me to elicit some intellectual reaction from them even in the English class.
    To give you just an example, if I'm examining a sentence like "She has the flu, so she may not show up at the party" I must be very careful in explaining the use of modal "may". "May" does not entertain any semic relation to the Subject of the sentence: it is the mark of another person's intervention (his fingerprints inside the sentence) — the subject of the utterance, i.e. the ∑peaker, who is the one responsible for the insertion of the modal at the very heart of the complex notion < she/not come to the party>.

    All the very best.

    GS :)
     
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    Tenacious Learner

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Ciao Giorgio,
    Thank you so much for your teaching and help. Never thought about that.:) :thumbsup:
    Obviously, there are "actions", but there are also processes and states. 1. talk about TWO subjects — the subject who produces a sentence and the subject OF the sentence.

    That's where the examples fit!
    This book is for Mary.
    It is for her. (Subject and object of the sentence)
    Mary is reading the book. (Mary the subject who produces a sentence/who produces an action. The book the object of the sentence)

    Saluti,
    TS
     
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    Tenacious Learner

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Hi entangledbank,
    Thanks a lot for your teaching too. That's quite an explanation! Not for the students, but without a doubt for me.:) :thumbsup:

    TS
     
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