TOEFL Structure Skill 1: Subjects and Verbs

You know that a sentence in English should have a subject and a verb. The most common types of problems that you will encounter in the Structure section of the TOEFL test are related to subjects and verbs; perhaps the sentence is missing either the subject, or the verb, or both; perhaps the sentence has an extra subject or verb.

Example I


______was ringing continuously for hours.


(A) Loudly

(B) In the morning

(C) The phone

(D) The bells

In this example, you should notice immediately that there is a verb, was ringing, but there is no subject. Answer (C) is the best answer because it is a singular subject that agrees with the singular verb was ringing. Answer (A), loudly, and answer (B), in the morning, are not subjects, so they are not correct. Although answer (D), bells, could be a subject, it is not correct because bells is plural and it does not agree with the singular verb was ringing.
Example II


Newspapers _______ every morning and every evening.


(A) delivery

(B) are delivered

(C) on time

(D) regularly

In this example, you should notice immediately that the sentence has a subject, newspapers, but that there is no verb. Because answer (B), are delivered, is a verb, it is the best answer. Answers (A), (C), and (D) are not verbs, so they are not correct.

Example III


The plane __________ landing at the airport in five minutes.


(A) it is

(B) it really is

(C) is descending

(D) will be

This sentence has a subject, plane, and has part of a verb, landing; to be correct, some form of the verb be is needed to make the verb complete. Answers (A) and (B) are incorrect because the sentence already has a subject, plane, and does not need the extra subject it. Answer (C) is incorrect because descending is an extra part of a verb that is unnecessary because of landing. Answer (D) is the best answer; will be together with landing is a complete verb.


A sentence in English must have at least one subject and one verb. The first thing you should do as you read a sentence in the Structure section of the TOEFL test is to find the subject and the verb.

EXERCISE 1: Underline the subjects once and the verbs twice in each of the following sentences. Then indicate if the sentences are correct (C) or incorrect (I).
_____ 1. My best friend always helpful with problems.

_____ 2. The bus schedule has changed since last week.

_____ 3. Accidentally dropped the glass on the floor.

_____ 4. The customer paying the clerk for the clothes.

_____ 5. The professor handed the syllabus to the students.

_____ 6. Each day practiced the piano for hours.

_____ 7. The basketball player tossed the ball into the hoop.

_____ 8. The new student in the class very talkative and friendly.

_____ 9. Walking with the children to school.

_____ 10. The whales headed south for the winter.

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