What is a Complex Subject? See the Examples

When trying to understand complex subjects in English grammar, it is important to not only understand, but to also distinguish between simple subjects and their complex counterparts. This guide will delve into what a complex subject is, its component elements, examples, as well as a simple game that you can use to practice identifying the simple subjects in complex ones.

Understanding Simple and Complex Subjects

The simple subject is the main word or set of words that refers to the grammatical subject of the sentence. It is the central part of the subject and the part with which the verb must agree. A complex subject, on the other hand, is a simple subject that has been expanded upon or modified by use of modifiers such as adjectives, phrasal verbs, or some other embed clauses.

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The Intricacies of Complex Subjects

With a complex subject, verb agreement can sometimes become tricky. A complex subject essentially uses modifiers such as adjectives, prepositional phrases, or another plural noun to add more information to the simple subject. For example, consider the complex subject ‘The pizza that is covered in pepperonis.

‘ Here, the simple subject ‘pizza’ has been modified by the addition ‘that is covered in pepperonis.’.

Collective Nouns and Their Impact on Verb Agreement

Collective nouns add further challenges to understanding complex subjects. These are singular nouns that provide a name to a group of another noun, such as ‘board of directors.’ In these cases, verb agreement follows the collective noun, which is singular.

For example, the correct sentence would be ‘The board of directors votes on the sale today.’ not ‘The board of directors vote on the sale today.’.

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Practice Game for Identifying Simple Subjects

A useful way to practice the identification of simple subjects within complex ones is the game. In which, each player would take turns to write a noun (singular or plural), then each subsequent player adds a word or phrase. The last player adds a predicate with a present tense verb form and reads the sentence aloud.

The aim is to correctly agree the verb with the simple subject.

Identifying Simple and Complex Sentences

A complex sentence is typically made up from at least one independent clause coupled with a dependent clause. This structure allows a sophisticated relationship to be demonstrated between ideas. For instance, consider the sentence ‘Although it was raining, they decided to go for a walk.’

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Common Structures of Complex Sentences

There are several common structures when it comes to constructing complex sentences. They typically consist of an independent clause (a complete thought) and at least one dependent clause (an incomplete thought). For example, ‘Although it was raining, she decided to go for a walk.

‘ or ‘They decided to go for a walk although it was raining.’.


Understanding complex subjects is essential for enhancing your English grammar knowledge, and improving your writing skills. Using the examples and exercises discussed in this guide can provide valuable practice. Always remember, the essence of the complex subject is the simple subject, and it’s the simple subject that determines the agreement of the verb in sentences.

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