Where is the subject in a command?

“Go!” “Come here!” “Do me a favor.” What? Who? Who should do these things? These sentences seem to be made up only of predicate phrases! Where are the subjects? They’re hiding, actually, and that’s what this article will explain.

Imperative Sentences

These kinds of sentences are known as imperatives — they give a direct command or offer advice that the speaker expects someone else to follow…but who? These commands make use of a grammatical convention known as the implied subject. Also referred to as an understood subject, the writer and reader are supposed to understand that there is an unwritten “you” acting as the subject for each of these sentences.

It should become clear if you write a parenthetical “you” before each one, to make it visible:

(You) go!
(You) come here!
(You) do me a favor.

This invisible implied subject is what allows a command like “Come here!” to still behave as an independent clause. Its subject is the understood “you” and the verb is “come”.

Understood “I”

Occasionally in casual language, there can also be an understood “I” that acts as the subject of a sentence. Consider the statement, “Hope you feel better!” Where is the subject? Just like with the implied “you” from before, it’s not written. However, it should be understood by author/speaker and reader/listener that “I” is still the subject. “Best wishes” and “hope that helps” also use this invisible “I”. Note, however, that these are not acceptable in formal situations, only in casual use.

Check out the forthcoming article on non-referential pronouns (also known as dummy pronouns) for more unexpected twists in the rules of English.

Practice Time!

Decide if the following are grammatically correct sentences that use an implied subject or are really fragments missing their subjects. Mark correct sentences (a) and incorrect ones (b). Check your answers at the end of the page.

  1. Open the window, please.
  2. Went to the party.
  3. Tell me where the calendar is.
  4. Call the office for me and ask about tomorrow’s appointment.
  5. Opened the door.

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(Answers: 1.a 2.b 3.a 4.a 5.b)

Notice that an imperative statement will never be in the past tense since it is telling you to do something, and you can’t act in the past. Since implied subjects are almost exclusively used with imperative statements, you can guess fairly easily that #5 is wrong.

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