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Subject Consistency

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Subject Consistency

After hours of writing, you hand your finished essay to a friend and ask them to read it over before you turn it in. You watch their helpful smile gradually fade into a narrow-eyed, puzzled expression. You see their eyes reach the end of a paragraph then jump back to the beginning to re-read it. They finish reading and give you their full review: "so ... what is the essay about?"

Seeing the reader's confusion doesn't feel good, does it? Luckily, you can use writing strategies to avoid problems with an unclear subject in the future. One of those strategies is subject consistency. Keeping the subject consistent in your writing will help you to write with clarity and confidence that will impress your audience.

Meaning of Subject Consistency

Here's a reminder of the grammatical definition of a subject:

A subject is the part of a sentence that is described by the predicate. In other words, the subject is what the sentence is about.

You can think of the subject as the main noun phrase of a sentence.

Now onto subject consistency! Maintaining a consistent subject throughout a sentence makes the sentence clearer and easier to read.

Subject consistency means referring to the same subject throughout the entire sentence.

How do you keep a subject consistent?

You can achieve subject consistency at the sentence level by rewording the sentence to maintain one subject.

Inconsistency: When I really think about it, the solution becomes clear to me.

Correction: When I really think about it, I can clearly see the solution.

You can achieve subject consistency on a larger scale by organizing the paragraphs by their subjects.

Essay Outline: Water Rationing in San Antonio, Texas

I. Introduction: presenting the main topic. The subject of the sentences should revolve around the general topic of water rationing in San Antonio.

II. Body: presenting the supporting points.

A. Body paragraph 1: history of droughts. The subject of every sentence should revolve around the history of droughts in the city.

B. Body paragraph 2: aquifer levels. The subject of every sentence should revolve around the levels of water stored under the city over the course of a year.

C. Body paragraph 3: water rationing rules. The subject of every sentence should revolve around the details of water rationing rules set by the city.

III. Conclusion: summarizing the essay. The subject of every sentence should revolve around the body paragraphs and how they combine into the main topic.

Using an outline like the one above can not only help with subject consistency, but it can help streamline the process of writing an essay!

The most important thing to remember about subject consistency is that subject consistency is not a steadfast rule. Maintaining a consistent subject is the best idea when it makes the most sense. In some sentences, a change in subject can make the most sense.

Use your best judgment when writing. If rewording or changing your sentences to create subject consistency makes the most sense, then make those changes. Otherwise, leave the sentences as they are!

What Are Some Examples of Subject Consistency?

Subject consistency can exist in multiple forms. These examples cover some common subject inconsistencies, as well as how to avoid them.

How Do You Fix Inconsistencies?

One way to fix a subject inconsistency is to change the wording of the sentence slightly. If you don't pay close attention when writing, you can easily make some subject-consistency mistakes like this one:

Subject Consistency, Traveling the World, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Traveling and discovering the world (with subject consistency).

When people travel for the first time, you realize the world is much bigger than you thought.

The subject of the first half of the sentence is people, and the subject of the second half is you.

This inconsistency makes the sentence confusing, and it's awkward. You can fix it by changing the subject of one half of the sentence to match the other. Here's what that would look like:

When people travel for the first time, they realize the world is much bigger than they thought.

When you travel for the first time, you realize the world is much bigger than you thought.

Both of these corrections maintain a consistent subject. As a result, the sentences are easier to follow.

To avoid inconsistencies like the one above, writers should always re-read their writing!

Take a look at this other example:

You shouldn't tell her that her chair broke because of you!

The subject of the first clause is you, and the subject of the second clause is her chair. This inconsistency isn't necessary, and it makes the sentence less clear. A consistent subject makes the sentence flow more easily:

You shouldn't tell her that you broke her chair!

The subject of both clauses is you now, and the sentence is more readable.

When is Subject Consistency Not Necessary?

In those previous examples, a consistent subject made more sense than an inconsistent subject. This isn't always the case, though. Sometimes an inconsistent subject makes for the most logical sentence.

I made sure to hide all the candy before my niece visited.

The subject of the first clause is I, and the subject of the second clause is my niece. Should this subject inconsistency be fixed?

Well, consider rewording the sentence to maintain a consistent subject:

I made sure to hide all the candy before I had my niece over to visit.

Now, the subject of both clauses is I, but the consistency seems forced. The sentence is more complicated with the consistent subject than it was originally. In this case, it's best to leave the sentence the way it was, instead of changing it just for subject consistency.

So, what's the rule here? When do you change the subjects, and when do you leave them alone? Well, it's up to you. As you write, look at your sentences and decide for yourself, "is this sentence clearer with a consistent or inconsistent subject?"

Importance of Subject Consistency in Writing

The examples so far have involved subject consistency in one or two basic sentences. Now for a bigger example: subject consistency in an essay discussing The Stanford Prison Experiment:

Subject Consistency, prison jail cell, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The Stanford Prison Experiment.

The Stanford Prison Experiment was a failed psychological experiment. The participants were divided randomly into two groups: "prisoners" and "guards." The experiment took place at Stanford University in 1971. The guards were given uniforms and instructed to keep the prisoners from escaping. The prisoners were arrested and brought to the simulated "prison" by real police officers. Even though they were considered psychologically stable before the experiment, the guards quickly became cruel and violent, brutally punishing and psychologically breaking the prisoners.

The experiment was supposed to last 14 days, but it was cut short after 6 days due to the participants' unsafe conditions. The participants were paid the full amount and then sent home after the experiment's premature end. The Stanford Prison Experiment is infamous, and it is now known as one of the most unethical psychological experiments in history.

This paragraph is a bit disorganized. Some sentences describe the experiment itself and others describe the participants. The result is subject inconsistency throughout the entire paragraph.

To clean up this text, you could separate the sentences with the experiment as the subject from sentences with the participants as the subject. Then, you can place the groups of sentences into separate paragraphs.

The Stanford Prison Experiment was a failed psychological experiment. It took place at Stanford University in 1971. The experiment was supposed to last 14 days, but it was cut short after 6 days due to the participants' unsafe conditions. The Stanford Prison Experiment is infamous, and it is now known as one of the most unethical psychological experiments in history.

The study's participants were divided randomly into two groups: "prisoners" and "guards." The prisoners were arrested and brought to the simulated "prison" by real police officers. The guards were given uniforms and instructed to keep the prisoners from escaping. Even though they were considered psychologically stable before the experiment, the guards quickly became cruel and violent, brutally punishing and psychologically breaking the prisoners. The participants were paid the full amount and then sent home after the experiment's premature end.

The first paragraph of this corrected version contains all the sentences that describe the experiment. The second paragraph contains all the sentences that describe the participants. Organizing the paragraphs by the subject this way makes the text easier to read and understand.

The key to maintaining subject consistency is to always remember what you're writing about. As you write, ask yourself what the sentence or paragraph is about. Whatever your answer is, that should probably be the main subject of the sentence or paragraph.

Subject-Predicate Consistency

An important factor of subject consistency is subject-predicate consistency, otherwise known as subject-verb agreement.

Subject-verb agreement means that the subject of a sentence and the verb it corresponds with are in the same form. That means that if the subject is singular, the verb is also singular. If the subject is plural, the verb is also plural.

How does subject-verb agreement apply to subject consistency? Well, if the subject and verb don't agree, the subject can become unclear. You can see it in this example:

The leader of the school clubs are organizing an event.

The subject, the leader, is singular, but the verb, are organizing, is plural.

This mistake is tricky because the noun is next to the verb clubs, which is plural. Because the verb agrees with clubs, it's easy to assume that clubs is the subject instead of the leader. This mistake in subject-verb agreement makes the subject less clear, which confuses the reader.

To fix this, you need to change the form of either the subject or the verb to match each other.

The leader of the school clubs is organizing an event.

The leaders of the school clubs are organizing an event.

Now, the subject and predicate agree, and it's clear that either "the leader" or "leaders" is the subject of the sentence. The reader doesn't have to reread the sentence to verify what the subject is!

Subject Consistency - Key Takeaways

  • Subject consistency means referring to the same subject throughout the entire sentence.
  • Maintaining a consistent subject throughout a sentence makes the sentence clearer and easier to read.
  • Subject consistency is not a steadfast rule. Maintaining a consistent subject is the best idea when it makes the sentence clearer.
  • Subject-predicate or subject-verb agreement in a sentence helps make the subject clear.
  • The key to maintaining subject consistency is to always remember what you're writing about.

Frequently Asked Questions about Subject Consistency

Subject consistency means referring to the same subject through the entire sentence.

Maintaining a consistent subject throughout a sentence makes the sentence clearer and easier to read. 

You can achieve subject consistency at the sentence level by rewording the sentence to maintain one subject. You can achieve it on a larger scale by organizing the paragraphs by their subjects.

This is a subject inconsistency: When people travel for the first time, you realize the world is much bigger than you thought.


You can fix this by changing the subject of one half of the sentence to match the other: When people travel for the first time, they realize the world is much bigger than they thought.

Subject-verb agreement means that the subject of a sentence and the verb it corresponds with are in the same form. That means that if the subject is singular, the verb is also singular. If the subject is plural, the verb is also plural.

Final Subject Consistency Quiz

Question

What is the grammatical definition of subject?

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Answer

Subject is the part of a sentence that is described by the predicate. In other words, subject is what the sentence is about.

Show question

Question

What is subject-verb agreement?

Show answer

Answer

Subject-verb agreement means that the subject of a sentence and the verb it corresponds with are in the same form. That means that if the subject is singular, the verb is also singular. If the subject is plural, the verb is also plural.

Show question

Question

What is subject consistency?

Show answer

Answer

Subject consistency means referring to the same subject through the entire sentence. Maintaining a consistent subject throughout a sentence makes the sentence clearer and easier to read.

Show question

Question

True or false: subject consistency is not a steadfast rule.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

How can you achieve subject consistency at the sentence level?

Show answer

Answer

You can achieve subject consistency at the sentence level by rewording the sentence to maintain one subject.

Show question

Question

How would you reword this sentence to create subject consistency?


I need to stay quiet, so her secret won't get out.

Show answer

Answer

I need to stay quiet, so I don't let out her secret.

Show question

Question

How would you reword this sentence to create subject consistency?


We should all read the assignment because it's embarrassing when you can't answer the teacher's questions.

Show answer

Answer

We should all read the assignment because it's embarrassing when we can't answer the teacher's questions.

Show question

Question

How can you achieve subject consistency at the paragraph level?

Show answer

Answer

You can achieve subject consistency at the paragraph level by organizing the paragraphs by their subjects.

Show question

Question

When should you change a sentence to create subject consistency, and when should you leave the sentence as it is?

Show answer

Answer

Use your own best judgment when it comes to subject consistency. As you write, look at your sentences and decide for yourself, "does this sentence make more sense with a consistent or inconsistent subject?"

Show question

Question

What is subject-predicate consistency (or subject-verb agreement)?

Show answer

Answer

Subject-verb agreement means that the subject of a sentence and the verb it corresponds with are in the same form. That means that if the subject is singular, the verb is also singular. If the subject is plural, the verb is also plural.

Show question

Question

How would you fix this sentence to create subject-verb agreement? (There is more than one correct answer)


Each one of the toys are individually tested.

Show answer

Answer

Each one of the toys is individually tested.


All the toys are individually tested.

Show question

Question

How would you fix this sentence to create subject-verb agreement? (There is more than one correct answer)


The light switches in our house is broken.

Show answer

Answer

The light switches in our house are broken.


The light switch in our house is broken.

Show question

Question

What is something writers can do to ensure consistency in their writing ahead of time?


Show answer

Answer

Create an outline 


Show question

Question

What can subject inconsistency lead to?


Show answer

Answer

Lack of organization and reader confusion 


Show question

Question

What is the problem with this sentence?

The presidents of all the clubs is planning a fundraiser. 


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Answer

The word “presidents” is plural, but the verb “is” is singular. To change this the writer has to change the form of either the subject or the verb so they match. For instance, the sentence could read: “The presidents of all the clubs are planning a fundraiser.” 


Show question

Question

What is the key to maintaining subject consistency?

Show answer

Answer

Always remember what you’re writing about. 

Show question

Question

True or false. Subject-verb agreement is the same as subject-predicate agreement.


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Answer

True

Show question

Question

You can think of the subject as the _ of a sentence


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Answer

Main point 


Show question

Question

Which of the following strategies helps maintain subject consistency?

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Answer

Re-reading writing 


Show question

Question

Is this an example of subject consistency or inconsistency?

You should tell her that you're in love with her! 

Show answer

Answer

Subject consistency

Show question

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