Powering-Up Your Subjects


Strength-training isn’t just for the beef-heads at the gym. It’s for you, sitting at your desk preparing a business letter, writing the next award-winning novel, or banging out a killer blog post that will ignite the world’s consciousness. Strength-training for you doesn’t mean training yourself to lift small cars (in case you don’t know how to use a jack); strength-training means building the power of your subjects to lift your ideas.

When you use power subjects, you transform listless, weak, vague, and uninspiring writing into writing that is active, engaging, inspiring, clear, and persuasive writing.

Step One to Using Power Subjects: The main action

To determine the power subject, you first have to find the main action. When you write a sentence, ask yourself, “Self, what’s the action being described by this sentence?” The answer to this question may or may not be the main verb. Let’s try this with an easy example.

“There is a good reason for the fire department to follow this policy.”

The main verb of this sentence is “is,” and the subject of “is” is “there.” But what action does this sentence describe? What is this sentence about? This sentence focuses on having a good reason, so that’s the main action. “Is” is a wimpy verb; nothing happens with “is.” On the other hand, the reader can visualize “having.” Someone can perform the action of “having.”

Choose a sample sentence in your own writing and find your main actions.

Step Two to Using Power Subjects: The main actor

Once you have found the main action in your sentences, ask yourself, “Self, who is doing the main action?” The answer to this question will be the power subject, i.e., the doer of the main action. In the sample sentence above, we identified the main action as having a reason. Now we ask the question.

Who has a good reason? The answer to this question is “the fire department,” which makes “the fire department” the power subject. We call this the main actor because it does the main action.

Great writing uses the power subject for the subject of a sentence and the main action for the main verb. Together, these form the basis of a powerful sentence: “The fire department has a good reason . . . .” Now we just add the rest of the content, and we change a weak, original sentence into buffed-up, strong writing.

“The fire department has a good reason for following this policy.”

The Power of the Power Subject

Why do we call this the power subject? We can answer this question in two ways. First, we call this the power subject because it has power over the rest of the sentence. As we saw in the sentence above, we were forced to change the entire sentence when we used the power subject.

Second, we use the term “power subject” because it makes your writing more powerful. When someone reads your writing, he or she wants to know “Who is doing what?” The power subject answers that question. This means your writing will impact and influence your reader. It will have power over your reader; it will make your reader respond.

Two More Samples of the Power Subject

Many people find the concept of power subjects new. Maybe it’s new to you, so let’s look at two more samples. We will analyze sentences to find the main actions and actors, and then we will use them to revise the sentences.

Example one: “The tables in the office were designed by the Julius brothers.”

Current subject and main verb: “The tables in the office” – “were designed”
Main action: design, designing the tables
Main actor: the Julius brothers.
Revision: “The Julius brothers designed the tables in the office.”

Example two: “It’s not clear whether the CEO understands the situation.”

Current subject and verb: “It” – “is”
Main action: “knowing about the CEOs level of understanding”
Main actor: The actor is not named in this sentence, but we know from the context that we are writing about ourselves. As such, the main actor is “We.”
Revision: “We don’t know if the CEO understands the situation.”

Let’s take another look at the second example. In the revision, we decided that the sentence is about our knowledge of the CEOs understanding. However, we might decide, instead, that the sentence is not about us but about the CEO. This gives us the following.

Main action: understanding about the situation
Main actor: the CEO
Revision: “The CEO might, or might not, understand the situation.”

Final Thoughts on Power Subjects

You won’t be able to use power subjects in every sentence, nor should you. For example, sometimes you are not describing actions but what something is, so you will use “to be” verbs, such as “is” and “are.” At other times, you won’t be able to identify or determine the actor, or you won’t want to focus on the actor and main action. In these cases, you might use the passive voice.

In most sentences, however, you can identify and use the power subject. This may take some practice, both to understand the concept and to apply it. Then again, you don’t build muscle strength by reading about lifting weights. You get strong by stepping into the gym, day after day, and lifting weights.


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