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I am working on grammar-related exercises in a book from PONS.

In one assignment, I must find the subject in some piece of text.

I think that in the following sentence, the subject is ich:

Was mache ich heute Abend?

but in the solutions, it is written that ich is not a subject.

Can someone please explain or show a link to some explanation of why this is not the case.

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Can you tell me what PONS says about the presumably correct solution? For me there's no doubt that ich is the grammatical subject of this sentence. –  pemistahl Aug 22 '12 at 18:56
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Are we talking about that? If yes, interestingly in this sentence they forgot to underline the subject. What does your version say? –  Em1 Aug 22 '12 at 20:06
    
I cant find any definition of subject in the book. I am currenty on the chapter 11: Positionen im Satz(1), and there is assingment with some text in this chapter: Die Sonne scheint: Unterstreichen Sie das Subjekt. I found the solution on the end of the book, where all the correct words were marked. –  depecheSoul Aug 23 '12 at 6:59
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3 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Ich clearly is the grammatical subject. There are numerous cues for that:

  1. It is in nominative case; subjects usually use this case.

  2. It comes right after the verb (though this is not the strongest hint as not 100% fail proof).

  3. The verb machen is in accordance with a subject first person singular: mache. Technically it could also be conjunctive 1 ("Der Arzt sagt, der Patient mache gute Fortschritte."), but the lack of a third person entity shows that this is not the case.

  4. There is no really other entity in the sentence that could "make" something. The question word Was could ask for the subject but then the conjugation should be macht.

So trust yourself :). Books are made by humans and are therefore never perfect.

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Whenever you are looking for the subject in a question, you can generally just rearrange it into a statement to make it easier to see. And try to identify the parts that you know aren't the subject (like prepositional phrases, adjectives, and adverbs) and drop them out to make your search easier. However, you'll find that even whole phrases can be the subject at times, and different verb forms can be a little tricky, but that's for another day. Let's just stick to your example.

Now first, let's start with the verb, mache. Of the remaining words in the sentence, ich is the only one that could say mache here. Was and Abend and even heute would have to be macht, the third person singular form of machen.

Although Abend is a noun, I think you can see that hooked together with heute it's operating as an adverbial phrase of time in this case, so we can drop out heute and Abend from the equation.

Since we know ich uses the form mache, and heute Abend is an adverbial phrase of time, then Was must be the object of the verb, just in reverse order because it's a question. You could say, Ich mache was heute Abend to see it in statement form (though you'd probably want to change was to etwas unless you're using the colloquially shortened form, but that's again for another day).

One last point. If the verb is a form of sein (to be), then nouns and pronouns in the Nominitive case have to be either the subject or a predicate nominative of the subject. So, anytime you see ich instead of mich or mir, you're pretty limited on what part it will play in the sentence.

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Here ich is at the nominative case.

If ich was not the subject, it would be mich (accusative form) or mir (dative form)...

However it is simply in the nominative form... so it is grammatically written as the subject of the sentence.

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nominative case doesn't automatically imply that the word is the subject. Look for "prädikativer Nominativ" for example –  splattne Aug 23 '12 at 6:34
    
thx, I didn't know about that grammatical form. –  Stephane Rolland Aug 23 '12 at 8:14
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