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Meta-language #2: Subject, Verb, Object

Apr 30, 2020

So now that we’ve defined what Meta-language is, let’s get down to learning the basics:

Each sentence must have two things: A ‘thing’ (Subject) that does something (Verb)

SUBJECT:  This is a noun, meaning ‘person, place, thing, or idea.’  In essence, a subject is always someone or something.  A few examples:

I, You, He, She, It, The dog, Context, Inspector Gadget, A payment contract, Existentialism, Moses, Boris Johnson, Coffee, Teachers, Women, Paris, Amsterdam

Then, there’s a VERB. In the USA in the 2000s, there was a campaign with this tag line that sums up verbs nicely:


Clauses and objects:

So far, there are Subjects (Things) and Verbs (what that thing does). All sentences need a subject and a verb at least.  Subjects and verbs make up: A Clause.

Some examples of basic clauses are:

  • I went.
  • She eats.
  • Paris shines.
  • Existentialism bores.
  • Shakespeare writes.
  • “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
  • Dogs bark.
  • Women rule.

So far it’s pretty simple.

But then there are Objects.  We use objects to show the interaction between two things.  For example:

He stole the money.
S.    V.            O.

Here, We’re connecting the subject, He, with the object, the money. How are they connected?  The verb, stole.  Some other examples:

I like cheese.
He picked up dinner.
Mommy said “no!”

However — consider this:

“John gave him money.”

What exactly is being connected?  In a way, its ‘John’ and ‘him’. It could almost be an answer to a question: “What does John have to do with Fred?”  “John gave him money.

Yet, in another way, something is given to someone.  So, there’s this weird third connection: money.

That’s because there are actually two types of objects here:

  • Direct object (money):  It is what is being given.  Think: connected directly to the verb.  “What is given?”  “Money”
  • Indirect object (him): This is the final endpoint.  A good way to check is to try to re-arrange a bit.  “John gave money to him.

So, in this example, there are two objects.

What about word order?

English is a Subject-Verb-Object language, meaning that the word order goes just like that: First the subject, then the verb, then the object.

Sometimes the indirect object and direct object are switched, like above:  John gave him money and John gave money to him. Remember:  the object means that we’re connecting two things; something happens to bring things together.  In “John gave him money,” we’re connecting John and him via ‘giving money’.  So, we generally like to hear the connection as soon as possible.

Always begin with a Subject and a Verb.  Then, the object you’re connecting with.  Then, if there’s a direct object, that comes next.

Some languages are different, like Japanese, which is often a Subject-Object-Verb language.

Dutch is both.  Consider this:  Ik wil een bril voor hem kopen.  Or: Ik denk dat jij het leuk zal vinden.   Here, we have objects put before verbs.  It’s a bit confusing compared to English, unless you know the system.  But for English-speakers, word order in Dutch can be quite confusing.  (and let’s not even talk about German.)

That’s enough for today.  We have Subject, Verb, and Object — both indirect and direct.

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