English grammar is filled with confusing terms.  None are probably as misunderstood or hard to grasp as functions of nouns, which tend to be abstract.  Often it is enlightening to learn the etymology behind grammatical terms, however, whose ideas at base are very simple.  Learning why a word was made in the first place demystifies the word!  In an attempt to make grammar simple, I have written about the etymologies of parts of speech in two previous posts; in this post I will discuss the grammatical subject (not to be confused with the “subject” of a book, which is what the book is about).

Let’s work with the following sentence:

Tommy ate a honking pickle.

All nouns have something they have to do in a sentence, otherwise they wouldn’t be there in the first place.  What the noun does is called its function.  As you can see, we have two nouns in the above sentence: Tommy and pickle (a noun, again, is a person, place, thing, action, or quality).  Since Tommy is clearly a person and a pickle is clearly a thing, both of these are nouns.  Today we are going to talk about the grammatical subject, which is the most important function that a noun can have.


Definition:  the subject is the noun or pronoun (a pronoun is simply a word that stands for a noun, such as he, she, it, they, etc.) that does the action of a verb, for a verb needs someone or something to do it!  The action of flying, for instance, must be done by something, such as a plane or a bird.  You can’t look outside the window and just see “flying” by itself, but rather you always see something doing the flying.  That’s a subject!  Let’s compare the below:

Is flying.  This makes no sense, as there is nothing doing the flying.  This sentence fragment needs a subject!

The robin is flying.  There, that’s better–now there is something doing the action of the verb, that is, the “robin.”  Hence, “robin” is the subject of the sentence.

Etymology:  Often why a grammatical term was formed in the first place helps to understand what the word means at a deeper level.   The word “subject” comes from the English prefix “sub-” meaning “under,” and the Latin root word “ject” meaning “thrown.”  The “subject,” therefore, is that noun or pronoun which is “thrown under” the verb to support it, that is, do it.  Without the “support” of the “subject” a verb would be helpless–a verb cannot do itself!  “Jumping” cannot happen without someone to do the jumping!  Could you see “jumping” with no one or nothing there to do the “jumping?”  Of course not!  Verbs are helpless by themselves!  That’s where the subject comes into play.

So, what is the “subject” in our sentence: Tommy ate a honking pickle?  That’s right, it has to be “Tommy,” who did the eating.  It wouldn’t make sense to say, “Ate the huge pickle.”  “Tommy” was “thrown under” the verb “ate” to help it out.  Go Tommy!

Now, let’s have a little test to make sure that we have a handle on what a grammatical subject is:

Find the grammatical subjects in the following sentences (answers are way down below, but don’t look until you’re sure of your answers!):

1.  Edna gave Peter’s porcupine to Edith.

2.  Edith gave the porcupine back to Peter by putting it under his pillow.

3.  Philbert went to the store on the day between Monday and Tuesday.

4.  Once upon a time King Arthur married a beautiful princess named Guinevere, whose name meant “white phantom.”

5.  Will Janet ever climb to the top of the mountain with her pet goat in tow?

6.  Josh and James flew to the moon, only to find out that it was made of green cheese after all and so was a little squishy to walk around on!

7.  I don’t want to do any more grammar problems!

So, “subjects” are super important–without them NOTHING could happen!  In my next post I will discuss the second most important function of a noun: the direct object.  Stay tuned!









1.  Edna; 2.  Edith; 3.  Philbert; 4.  King Arthur; 5.  Janet; 6.  Josh and James; 7. I

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Teachers attending NCTE 2014 in Washington DC will be exploring the theme Story as the Landscape of Knowing via the many different programs and sessions offered there.

A few of the sessions that pique our interest, which we hope to learn about from visitors to our booth (#447) in the expo hall (where we’ll be busy as you educators attend these intriguing offerings) are:

Stories of Reading: Rethinking Instruction in a Digital Age
Saturday, November 22, 8:00-9:15 a.m.

Teaching Young Adult Literature through Differentiated Instruction
Sunday, November 23, 10:30-11:45 a.m.

On Metaphor: Using Metaphor to Teach and Improve Writing
Friday, November 21, 4:00-5:15pm – Featured session

By having your students train with Membean’s web-based, differentiated, multimodal vocabulary program, you will help them develop a vibrant and durable vocabulary.  This in turn will not only help them better understand the stories they will encounter throughout their lives, but will also illuminate their current landscape of learning.

Teacher's work magic every day

Membean’s Adaptive Reinforcement Engine tracks students’ learning and regularly assesses what they are at risk of forgetting.  It then refreshes the information in numerous ways, which includes some metaphorical approaches such as the related and demonstrative background images of our word pages.  This ensures that what students learn with Membean stays “learned.”  By having reimagined how to teach vocabulary in this digital age we have enabled truly durable learning.

So plan to stop by our booth (#447) at NCTE 2014 to see for yourself what the buzz is all about.  

While there, fill us in on all the insights you’ve amassed attending such wonderful sessions, and help yourself to some fabulous, literary swag!

Have a great conference!

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Introducing the Activity Log!

by Kamal on November 5, 2014

What’s the Activity Log?

The Activity Log allows you to see significant student interactions with Membean. It gives you a way to answer claims such as the following: “I trained, but Membean didn’t record it!”

Instructions for accessing a given student’s Activity Log can be found here:
How can I see logs of my students’ activities?

Why make it available?

Students sometimes write to us or lodge complaints with teachers, such as saying that their training session was not recorded properly, that they did not receive a pop-up and so were not able to take a quiz, etc. We research and respond to each one of these reports. Invariably, we find that the root cause is “pilot error or omission.” The data we review to reach our conclusions on these matters is now available to both students and their teachers under the ”Activity Log.”

What is tracked?

The significant interactions currently tracked are:

  1. A user logging in.
  2. A user viewing the dashboard.
  3. A user initiating a training session.
  4. A user being issued an assessment.
  5. A user taking the assessment.
  6. A user gracefully terminating a session.
  7. A user logging out.
  8. A user changing classes.

Users can neither use the Membean website nor complete these actions without our web servers seeing and “recording” them. The log of user activity is available from Oct. 27th, 2014 onwards. It will be available for review on a rolling basis for the preceding two-week period.

Cross-checking claims vs. facts with the Activity Log

One common complaint we receive is, “I did not receive a pop-up for my quiz and so I could not take it.” Using this complaint as an example, Read the full article →

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Membean was temporarily unavailable

November 4, 2014 Roots

Nov 4, 2014 19:09 PM PT: Our apologies. We detected some malicious behavior toward our servers in an attempt to overwhelm them, and they have been temporarily brought down by us for investigation. We are in communication with our data center to bring the machines back online. UPDATE Nov 4, 2014 20:05 PM PT: We’ve […]

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The High Points of “Summit,” “Apogee,” “Pinnacle,” “Zenith,” “Apex,” and “Acme”

October 3, 2014 Roots

     Of all languages, English has the largest lexicon by far, estimated at well over one-million words; the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary  has over 600,000 entries, and the third edition will more than likely have close to seven figures.  German is a distant second with a still robust 200,000 words in its lexicon. […]

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Membean WAS offline for a bit this morning

September 16, 2014 Roots

UPDATE: 9:31 AM PT We are back online. Our service provider assures us that they are investigating the root cause so that future outages will not recur. As our long-time schools know, we have not had any widespread outages in over two years. If we ever need to bring our servers down for maintenance, we […]

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Grimm’s Law: Interchangeability of Dentals: “T,” Th,” and “D”

August 23, 2014 Roots

Grimm’s Law is a handy linguistic rule to know when it comes to figuring out whether words are related to one another, that is, are in the same linguistic family. Jacob Grimm, while he and his brother Wilhelm listened to different dialects as they were collecting fairy tales throughout the German countryside, noticed that particular […]

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The Capacious and Scintillating Vocabulary of T.C. Boyle

July 27, 2014 Roots

Isn’t it wonderful when you discover an author whom you have not read before that is so good that even thinking about sitting down to read elicits a frisson of anticipatory joy? I’ve recently encountered an author whose short fiction is so engaging that I just cannot put it down–in fact I have yet to encounter […]

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Some Fun & Favorite Words from Membean’s Staff

July 4, 2014 Roots

Everybody has their favorite words, and we at Membean are no different.  Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason behind why we like a particular word, whereas at other times there can be a highly specific rationale. So, here is a list of our favorite words, polled at the office, and listed in no particular […]

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How Word Origins Help Understand Parts of Speech: Part II

May 21, 2014 Roots

In my last post, I spoke about how the word origins of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs make those words easier to understand and remember.  In this post I will finish the word origins for the last five parts of speech: interjections, prepositions, articles, conjunctions, and expletives. interjection:  The word interjection comes from the Latin […]

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