Lesson 34: The "Subject"




530. The term "subject" has regularly been enclosed in quotation marks since a grammatical definition of the "subject" has not yet been offered. Traditionally the "subject" is defined as "the performer of the action." Such a definition indicates the relation of the "subject" to the verb (or whole predicate), and it fits a good many cases, e.g.

(1)    τιμῶ τὸν πατέρα μου Jn 8:48
  I honor my father

It does not, however, fit such a sentence as

(2)    ἐκαθερίσθη Mk 1:42
  He was cleansed  

in which the "subject" undergoes the action. The grammatical "subject" of the sentence thus sustains more than one relation to the verb (and predicate). In fact, the "subject" sustains a wide variety of relationships to the verb (and predicate), so that the traditional definition is scarcely adequate as a general definition.

531. The relation of the "subject" to the predicate: voice. The following sentences indicate the range of relationships between "subject" and predicate.

531.1 The "subject" is performer of the action.

             2-1                          4  
(3)    I. εἰσπορεύονται / εἰς Καφαρναούμ Mk 1:21
    They journeyed into Capernaum  
         2-1              4  
(4)    III. εὑρίσκει / Φίλιππον Jn 1:43
    He finds Philip  
         2-1          4                  5  
(5)    IV. ἔδωκεν / αὐτὸν / τῇ μητρὶ αὐτοῦ Lk 7:15
    He gave him to his mother  

531.2 The "subject" undergoes the action.

       2pass-1                 4                           6  
ἐβαπτίσθη / εἰς τὸν Ἰορδάνη / ὑπὸ Ἰωάννου Mk 1:9
    He was baptized in the Jordan by John  
        2pass           5            1  
ἀφέωνται / ὑμῖν / αἱ ἁμαρτίαι 1 Jn 2:12
    your sins are forgiven you
           3             2pass-1  
υἱοὶ θεοῦ / κληθήσονται Mt 5:9
    They shall be called sons of God  

531.3 The "subject" is that to or for which the action is undertaken.

         2pass-1                          4  
πεπίστευμαι / τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς ἀκροβυστίας Gal 2:7
    I have been entrusted with the gospel of unoiroumoision

531.4 The "subject" is identified.

       1        2                 3  
ἐγώ / εἰμι / τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου Jn 8:12
    I am the light of the world  
      2-1               3  
ἦσαν [γὰρ] ἁλιεῖς Mk 1:16
    For they were fishermen  

531.5 The "subject" is described.

                1                       2              3  
ἡ μαρτυρία σου / οὐκ ἔστιν / ἀληθής Jn 8:13
    Your testimony is not true  
          3          2-1              3  
πιστός / ἐστιν (καὶ) δίκαιος 1 Jn 1:9
    He is faithful and just

531.6 The "subject" acts on or with reference to itself.

(14) I. ἀπήγξατο Mt 27:5
    He hanged himself

532.1 Of the relationships between "subject" and predicate illustrated in §531, (1) and (3)-(5) fit the traditional definition: the "subject" performs the action. This relationship is found in sentences of types I, III-VI. When the "subject" is the performer of the action, the voice of the verb is said to be active.

532.2 If the "subject" undergoes the action, the voice of the verb is normally passive. Sentence types which have passive transformations, and whose verbs are thus transitive (§508), manifest this relation between "subject" and verb (IIIP, IVP, VP; (2), (6)-(8)).

532.3 Verbs in S-II link the "subject" with a subject complement, which identifies or describes the "subject." The "subjects" in such sentences therefore sustain a different relationship to the predicate than that indicated by either active or passive verbs. (10)-(13) are examples.

532.4 In (9) the "subject" of the sentence in its passive form was the indirect object of the sentence in its active form (§511), i.e.

[God] entrusted the gospel of uncircumcision to me becomes

I was entrusted with the gospel of uncircumcision.

In (9) the relation between "subject" and predicate is different than in (7), which is also a passive transformation of S-IV. In (7) the direct object of the active form has become the "subject" of the passive. Cf. §511.

532.5 (14) illustrates the middle voice (§306): the "subject" acts on, for, or with reference to itself. This relationship may be expressed entirely by the voice of the verb, although the middle voice is on the decline in hellenistic Greek and true middles are rare. In the hellenistic period, the middle voice is expressed more often by an active verb and a reflexive or personal pronoun as object, as in English:

    12 4  
(ἐὰν) ἐγὼ / δοξάσω / ἐμαυτόν . . . Jn 8:54
    (If) I glorify myself  

(15) is another example of S-III, but the relation of the "subject" to the predicate corresponds to the middle voice. (14) and (15) thus express the same "subjecf'-predicate relationship, but in different grammatical forms.



533. The traditional definition of the "subject" as the performer of the action is inadequate as a means of identifying the grammatical "subjects" of sentences (§§530-532). Nevertheless, the "subject" of the sentence must be identified in relation to the main or finite verb in the predominant sentence form (the full sentence).

533.1 The "subject" may be defined grammatically as that word or word-group that is "tied" to the main or finite verb by virtue of certain agreements. To state it more precisely: the "subject" is that word OP word-group that determines the personal ending (bound morpheme) attached to the finite verb. The tie between "subject" and verb is effected by agreement in person and number: 1., 2., 3. person singular; 1., 2., 3. person plural (abbreviated: 1. sg., 2. sg., 3. sg.; 1. pi., 2. pi., 3. pi.).

533.2 A second means of identifying the "subject" grammatically is case: the "subject" is signaled by the nominative ease. This signal, however, is by no means infallible. Some "subjects" are not marked by case, e.g. an infinitive in the structure of "subject." In some sentences both the "subject" and the subject complement are in the nominative case, e.g. S-II (§532). And in some embedded sentences the "subject" is signaled by a case other than the nominative, e.g. the accusative "subject" with an infinitive. Thus, while the nominative case often signals the "subject," especially in independent and context-free sentences, it is not a universal guide.

The subject has now been defined grammatically as that word or word group which is tied to the main or finite verb by agreement in person and number, and which is often signaled by the nominative case. The subject can thus be identified everywhere on purely grammatical grounds.

It should be emphasized that identification of the subject always takes place in the context of the sentence as a whole: a subject is not a subject without a corresponding predicate, expressed or implied. Formal signals of the subject are operative within a constellation of grammatical clues. The former must contrast with the latter in some way or ways, unless the sentence is gramatically ambiguous.

The formal signals of the subject may be illustrated from sentences with personal pronouns as subjects.

The personal pronouns are listed in §256. Only the nominatives come under consideration here.

The personal endings attached to the verb are given in §§318, 319.

534. Pronoun subjects, first person singular. Ἐγώ is the nominative case of the 1. sg. pronoun (§256), which, as subject, will be tied to the 1. sg. personal endings, -ω, -μι, -#, or -ν; -μαι or -μην (§§318, 319). Note: -# stands for the zero form of the 1. sg. secondary ending, active (§319).

(1)           ἐγὼ / οὐ κρίνω / οὐδένα Jn 8:15
  I judge no one  
  12 3  
(2)           ἐγώ / εἰμι / τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου Jn 8:12
  I am the light of the world  
  12 5  
(3)      ἐγὼ / ἐλήλυθα / ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ πατρός μου Jn 5:43
  I have come In the name of my father
  2 1 i 64  
(4)      οὐ δύναμαι / ἐγὼ / ποιεῖν / ἀπ’ ἐμαυτοῦ / οὐδέν Jn 5:30
  I am able to do nothing of myself  
  421 5 3
(5)      διὰ τοῦτο / ἦλθον / ἐγὼ / ἐν ὕδατι / βαπτίζων Jn 1:31
  For this reason I came baptizing in water  
(6)      ἐγὼ / ἐξελεξάμην / ὑμᾶς Jn 15:16
  I chose you

Observe that in (1) ἐγώ agrees in person and number with -ω (which can be written ἐγώ ↔ -ω), i.e. both are 1. sg. , in addition to which ἐγώ is the only nominative in the sentence: agreement plus the nominative case identifies ἐγώ as the subject. The double signal might be written: (nom.) ἐγώ ↔ -ω. Accordingly, in (3) the subject might be indicated thus: (nom.) ἐγώ ↔ -#, in (4) (nom.) ἐγώ ↔ -μαι, and in (6) (nom.) ἐγώ ↔ -μην. In (2), however, the nom. case of ἐγώ competes with the nom. case of the predicate (τὸ φῶς . . .); this ambiguity is resolved by agreement: ἐγώ ↔ -μι (the light of the world as subject would be 3. sg., i.e. would require ἐστίν). There is a less acute ambiguity in (5): ἐγώ ↔ -ν is also nom. However, a participle without its own article (ο) does not normally appear in the structure of subject.

535. Pronoun subjects, other than first person singular. Other persons and numbers may be illustrated out of an abundance of examples. The form of notation is that employed in §534.

   1                 6                   2  
(7)      σὺ / περὶ σεαυτοῦ / μαρτυρεῖς Jn 8:13
  You bear witness concerning yourself
  (nom.) σὺ ↔ -ς  
      1                  4                     2  
(8)      ὑμεῖς / κατὰ τὴν σάρκα / κρίνετε Jn 8:15
  You judge according to the flesh (nom.)
  (nom.) ὑμεῖς ↔ -τε  
      1                6                         2  
(9)      ἡμεῖς / ἐκ πορνείας / οὐκ ἐγεννήθημεν Jn 8:41
  We were not born of fornication (nom.)
  (nom.) ἡμεῖς ↔ -μεν  
       2                      1            3  
(10)      ἔσεσθε [οὖν] / ὑμεῖς / τέλειοι Mt 5:48
  Therefore, you shall be perfect
  ὑμεῖς ↔ -σθε  
       1                     2                  4  
(11)      αὐτὸς / [γὰρ] σώσει / τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ Mt 1:21
  For he shall save his people  
  (nom.) αὐτός ↔ -#  

N. -# stands for the zero form of the 3. sg. ending, active; cf. §3190.3.

       1                   2  
(12)      αὐτοὶ / παρακληθήσονται Mt 5:4
  They shall be comforted  
  (nom.) αὐτοί ↔ -νται

536. Neuter plural subject and singular verb. The rule that the person and number of the subject determines the person and number of the personal ending attached to the verb (§533.1) is subject to one peculiar exception in Greek: a neuter plural subject may be tied to a singular verb.

      1                 5                 2                       6  
(13)      ταῦτα / ἐν Βηθανίᾳ / ἐγένετο / πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου Jn 1:28
  These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan

The singular verb appears most often when the subject is a pronoun (cf. (13)) or an abstract or non-personal noun.

   2                 6            3              1  
(14)      ἦν [γὰρ] αὐτῶν / πονηρὰ / τὰ ἔργα Jn 3:19
  For their deeds were evil

Bl-D §133.

537. Two or more subjects connected by καί. In general, where two or more subjects are connected with one verb, the verb agrees in person and number with the first subject if the verb stands before the first or between two subjects.

           4                2             1                         1  
(15)      μετὰ ταῦτα / ἦλθεν / ὁ Ἰησοῦς (καὶ) οἱ μαθηταὶ Jn 3:22
  αὐτοῦ / εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν γῆν  
  After these things Jesus and his disciples went into Judea
         1               2                           1  
(16)      Ἀβραὰμ / ἀπέθανεν (καὶ) / οἱ προφῆται Jn 8:52
  Abraham died and the prophets (died)

If the verb stands after two or more subjects it agrees with the subjects taken together:

          3                      1                         1  
(17)      ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ / Πέτρος (καὶ) οἱ ἀπόστολοι / εἶπαν, . . . Acts 5:29
  Answering, Peter and the apostles said, . . .  

Observe that the participle, ἀποκριθείς, which stands before the two subjects, is singular in agreement with Πέτρος, while the main verb, εἶπαν, is plural in agreement with both subjects. Cf. Bl-D §135 for particulars.

538. Construatio ad sensum. Agreement is occasionally determined by the sense of the subject rather than by its grammatical number (as in English), e.g. a collective noun which embraces a plurality of persons in the singular may be tied to a plural verb:

                        1                                 2                5  
(18)      πολύς (τε) ὄχλος τῶν ἱερῶν / ὑπήκουον / τῇ πίστει Acts 6:7
  A great crowd of priests (= many priests) were obedient to the faith.