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Noun phrases and pronouns are objects, subjects in English

By Alexander Chagema | December 2nd 2019

In ancient times, political party adherents or supporters of any cause proudly wore badges on their coats to proclaim on which side they stood or which cause or leader they supported.

Yet, as it so often happens in Kenya nowadays , principles and loyalty were part of the game only as far they served the interests of the parties concerned. Quite often, people changed their allegiances, but they did not have to go to any registrar of parties; society wasn’t organised then. By literally turning ones coat to hide who or what one supported, one changed allegiance. That is the origin of the phrase ‘turncoat’.

The dictionary defines a turncoat as ‘a person who deserts one party or cause in order to join an opposing one’. Last week, we saw them in their true colours, but rather than change parties, they changed their positions on the matter of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) so fast it was impossible to notice the transition.

On a lighter note, BBI’s grammatical ‘subjects’ effortlessly swapped positions with the grammatical ‘objects’ in a political circus that most of us are all too familiar with by now. To recap, grammatical subjects are givers of action while objects are the receivers. Last week’s column discussed the matter of subjects, which this column continues by highlighting what was not discussed last week.

Visibly agitated

Grammatical subjects do not restrict themselves to merely being nouns. The subject, alternately known as the ‘naming part’, can be a noun, a noun phrase or pronoun. When we say, “Mr Murkomen was visibly agitated when he spoke during the launch of the BBI report at the Bomas of Kenya last week”, the naming word (noun) is ‘Murkomen’.

That tells us who the subject is. However, we can omit to use the noun and use a noun phrase instead. For example, “The Elgeyo Marakwet Senator was visibly agitated when he spoke during the launch of the BBI report at the Bomas of Kenya last week”. In this example, ‘Elgeyo Marakwet Senator” is a noun phrase.

After using a noun or noun phrase in a narration but a speaker or writer wishes to continue making reference to the subject without sounding repetitive, he or she would do well to use a pronoun as the subject. 

The pronouns that serve as subjects are ‘it’, ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘we’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘who’, ‘they’ and ‘whoever’. Thus, having established the context, one could write “He was visibly agitated when he spoke during the launch of the BBI report at the Bomas of Kenya last week”.

Noun phrases are groups of words that are created around a head noun to which are added determiners and modifiers. Determiners are words that introduce nouns, noun phrases or pronouns. On the other hand, modifiers, which are in most cases adjectives, give us the attribute of a noun, noun phrase or pronoun. For example, ‘The marathon runner who broke the record is a Kenyan”.

Grammatical objects

Whether simply nouns, noun phrases or pronouns, when any two of the above are linked by the word ‘and’, they create compound subjects. For example ; “President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga received the BBI report from the task force last week in a brief ceremony at State House’, “ Kipchumba Murkomen and Stephen Sang prefer to have the BBI handled by Parliament than taking it back to the people in readiness for a referendum “.

As explained in last week’s column, it does not always follow that the subject is the giver or initiator of action in a sentence. In some cases, even though clearly marked as subjects by virtue of coming before the verb in a sentence, the subjects are the receivers of the action.

For instance, “Murkomen was heckled by delegates at Bomas of Kenya last week”. In this example, ‘delegates’ (noun) comes after ‘heckled’ (verb). This makes ‘delegates’ the grammatical objects in the sentence but rather than receive the action, the reverse is true.

Nevertheless, that should not be so daunting because nouns also function as objects in a sentence. In the sentence, “Some delegates shouted at the senator”, there are two nouns, one on each side of the verb ‘shouted’. The noun senator indicates to us who the object is while the noun ‘delegates’ is the subject”. Equally important, pronouns, earlier enumerated, can serve as objects. For instance, “Before loading the bag into the car’s trunk, the police dog was made to sniff it”.

Mr Chagema is a Correspondent for The [email protected]

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