Punctuality Rules!

MM: Got Subject?

MM: Got Subject?


You’ve seen the milk ads, right? “Got Milk?

Have you noticed that there’s no “subject” to that sentence?

Two words– a verb “Got” and a noun which is the object of the sentence, “Milk”–but neither of which is the subject of the sentence.

That, of course is “You.” As in, “Have you got milk?”

The very simple explanation for this is that the subject is understood, even though it’s not directly stated.

If somebody shouts “Run!” you can more or less assume that they’re talking to anybody in earshot, rather than taking the time to say “You in the yellow necktie, run!” It doesn’t make the sentence any less clear, really. It gets its point across.

If you are struggling with three bags of groceries and a kind person asks, “Need help?” you needn’t criticize him for his bad grammar–in reality, it’s just as good as his manners. The “You” is understood.

Of course, you can’t do this for every sentence that has “You” as the subject.

That last sentence, for example, would make no sense if I left out the “you.”

“Can’t do this for every sentence” simply doesn’t make sense. Who can’t? The cat? People under the age of 21? North Dakotans?

As rules of thumb go, never leave off the actual Subject of your sentence unless it’s quite clear who and what the sentence is about. But if the time and circumstances allow?

Go for it!

(Anything obvious I missed? Leave a comment and let’s talk!)

(And, in case you missed it, the last three sentences were all object lessons, just for you.)

2 thoughts on “MM: Got Subject?

  1. PreciseEdit

    “Got milk?” also has a usage problem. “Got” typically refers to the act of receiving, not having. This sentence, then, is the equivalent of “Received milk?” which is a very odd question to ask, unless you run a dairy.

    By the way, I love the title of the page. Hooray for good manners in writing! Respecting your readers and understanding their needs is critical to writing well. I’m a big believer in that simple principle. In fact, I just added tip #151 to our service “Writing Tips for a Year” to discuss manners in writing, specifically the use of modal auxiliaries.

    Keep up the great blog. Grammar rules! I look forward to reading more.

  2. --Deb Post author

    Hmm… I suppose that I DO use “got” as “received” from time to time. (“Yes, I got your fax.” “I got an A in that class in school.”) But I use it as “have” just as often. (“I’ve only got a few minutes to talk.” “I’ve got to get going.” “Have you got a pen I could borrow?”)