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TOEFL Tuesday: The Subject and the Verb, Part 2

 

If you haven’t seen it already, start with my first video on subjects and verbs from last week. In that video, we looked at what subjects and verbs are made of and how you should think about sentences on the TOEFL.

For example, in this sentence…

Lower mountains tend to be older, and are often the eroded relics of much higher mountain chains.

…the main subject is “mountains,” but it makes more sense to consider which mountains and use “lower mountains” as the subject. Meanwhile, there are two verbs: “tend” and “are.” The word “and” combines them. But again, it makes more sense if we look at the whole phrases: “tend to be older,” and “are often eroded relics.” So our main sentence, using the subject and verbs, looks like this:

Lower mountains tend to be older, and are often eroded relics.

The final few words just describe “relics,” and so aren’t really part of the verb.

Now, let’s get some practice actually applying those ideas to an even harder sentence!

Whatever the reason for mountain formation, as soon as land rises above sea level it is subjected to destructive forces.

Take a moment to look for subjects and verbs yourself.

Now, this might be a bit difficult, but let’s start with the verbs. There are two clear verbs here: “rises” and “is subjected.”

Whatever the reason for mountain formation, as soon as land rises above sea level it is subjected to destructive forces.

Note that “is subjected” is passive—that’s why it’s two words. Also notice that “is subjected” means very little by itself. It’s like saying “He relied on.” Relied on what? Subjected to what? If we extend that verb phrase, it makes more sense:

Whatever the reason for mountain formation, as soon as land rises above sea level it is subjected to destructive forces.

Now, the nouns for those verbs should be pretty clear. When we ask “what rises,” the answer must be “land.” And it’s any land that rises—we don’t need other words to specify which land. And what is subjected to destructive forces? The sentence says “it is subjected…” So we have two subjects and two verbs in this sentence:

Whatever the reason for mountain formation, as soon as land rises above sea level it is subjected to destructive forces.

But there are more things to consider. First, what is “it”? We should find what that pronoun refers to. And that is in the previous clause: “it” means “land.” The verb helps with this, because we can infer that land is subjected to destructive forces.

Second, which clause is more important?

  • as soon as land rises above sea level
  • it is subjected to destructive forces.

The phrase “as soon as” gives us the answer. That phrase marks a dependent clause. It gives us more information about the main clause (the main clause starts with “it.”) But again, remember that “it” refers to land. So the most important idea here is that “land is subjected to destructive forces.” In other words, some things destroy land.

The rest of the sentence tells us when and why that land is destroyed.

Notice that the first part of the sentence, with “whatever,” doesn’t have a verb. Therefore, it doesn’t have a subject either. It is mostly one big noun phrase, and the word “whenever” makes it an adverbial phrase. It modifies the whole sentence, saying that land is destroyed regardless of the reason. In other words, it doesn’t matter how mountains are made. All mountains are slowly destroyed. Don’t be tricked by a long introductory phrase like this! The subject of the sentence can be very late, after an introduction. Look for the verb and subject pair—you need both to have the main meaning of the sentence.

 

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