Misra’s blog

Subject Verb agreement

Posted by mtwinkle on June 13, 2007

The grammar crime: The subject of a sentence must agree with the verb of the sentence. How do they need to agree?

 

They must agree in two ways:

  • in number: singular vs. plural

  • in person: first, second, or third person

Question: How do we know we have disagreement between the subject and verb?

 

Outlaw: They is my favourite Canadian authors.

  • The subject: They (plural)

  • The verb: is (singular)

  • The subject and verb disagree in number. Therefore, this is a subject-verb disagreement outlaw.

Question: How do we catch subject-verb disagreement?

The following are six situations in which subject-verb disagreement errors can be more difficult to spot.

 

1. When the subject and verb are separated

  • Find the subject and verb and make sure they agree.

  • Ignore the words in-between because they do not affect agreement.

Outlaw rehabilitated
The characters in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night lives in a world that has been turned upside-down. The characters in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night live in a world that has been turned upside-down.

 

2. Compound subjects

  • If the two subjects are joined by “and” the verb will be plural in most situations

    • exception: when the joined subjects are preceded by every, no, or nothing

  • If the subjects are joined by “nor” or “or,” the verb agrees with the closer subject (the last one)

Outlaw Rehabilitated
Christie and Prin is characters from Laurence’s The Diviners. Christie and Prin are characters from Laurence’s The Diviners.
Neither Edna’s neighbours nor her husband agree with her decision. Neither Edna’s neighbours nor her husband agrees with her decision.

 

3. Indefinite pronouns

  • single indefinite pronoun: e.g., anyone, anybody, each, either, none

    • They use singular verbs.

  • plural indefinite pronouns: both, few, many, several

    • They use plural verbs.

  • All, any, most, and some depend on the situation. They can be either singular or plural.

Outlaw Rehabilitated
Each of Sylvia Plath’s bee poems use the theme of beekeeping to express aspects of the human condition. Each of Sylvia Plath’s bee poems uses the theme of beekeeping to express aspects of the human condition.

Both of the main characters in Waiting for Godot believes Godot is the purpose of life.

Both of the main characters in Waiting for Godot believe Godot is the purpose of life.

 

4. Collective nouns

  • These are nouns that are singular in form, but plural in meaning.

  • Examples: band, minority, majority, class, community, dozen, family, public, team

  • When they act as one entity, use a singular verb.

  • When they do separate things, use a plural verb, BUT it is easier to reword the sentence. For example, write the members of the team instead of the team.”

Outlaw Rehabilitated
The majority of English majors read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness while at university. The majority of English majors reads Conrad’s Heart of Darkness while at university.

 

5. Plural nouns that are singular in meaning

  • Some plural nouns take singular verbs, for example, athletics, economics, politics, news, mumps, and measles.

Outlaw Rehabilitated
Politics are an issue in R. K. Narayan’s The Man-eater of Malgudi. Politics is an issue in R. K. Narayan’s The Man-eater of Malgudi.

 

6. Titles

  • When used in sentences, the titles of books, plays, poems, movies, and so on are singular.

Outlaw Rehabilitated
Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children are my favourite novel. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is my favourite novel.
   

Basic Rule      The basic rule states that a singular subject takes a singular verb while a plural subject takes a plural verb. The trick is in knowing whether the subject is singular or plural. The next trick is recognizing a singular or plural verb.
Hint: Verbs do not form their plurals by adding an s as nouns do. In order to determine which verb is singular and which one is plural, think of which verb you would use with he or she and which verb you would use with they.
Example     talks, talk
Which one is the singular form?
Which word would you use with he?
We say, “He talks.” Therefore, talks is singular.
We say, “They talk.”
Therefore, talk is plural.

Rule 1     Two singular subjects connected by or or nor require a singular verb.
Example     My aunt or my uncle is arriving by train today.

Rule 2     Two singular subjects connected by either/or or neither/nor require a singular verb as in
Examples     Neither John nor Susan is available.
Either Kiana or Casey helps today with stage decorations.

Rule 3     When one of your two subjects is I, put it second and follow it with the singular verb am.
Example     Neither she nor I am going to the festival.

Rule 4     When a singular subject is connected by or or nor to a plural subject, put the plural subject last and use a plural verb.
Example     The book or the magazines are on the shelf.

Rule 5     When a singular and plural subject are connected by either/or or neither/nor, put the plural subject last and use a plural verb.
Example     Neither Jenny nor the others are available.

Rule 6     As a general rule, use a plural verb with two or more subjects when they are connected by and.
Example     A car and a bike are my means of transportation.

Rule 7     Sometimes the subject is separated from the verb by words such as along with, as well as, besides, or not. Ignore these expressions when determining whether to use a singular or plural verb.
Examples     The politician, along with the newsmen, is expected shortly.
Excitement, as well as nervousness, is the cause
of her shaking.

Rule 8     The pronouns each, everyone, every one, everybody, anyone, anybody, someone, and somebody are singular and require singular verbs. Do not be misled by what follows of.
Examples     Each of the girls sings well.
Every one of the cakes is gone.
NOTE: Everyone is one word when it means everybody. Every one is two words when the meaning is each one.

Rule 9

With words that indicate portions—percent, fraction, part, majority, some, all, none, remainder, etc.—look at the noun in your of phrase (object of the preposition) to determine whether to use a singular or plural verb. If the object of the preposition is singular, use a singular verb. If the object of the preposition is plural, use a plural verb.

NOTE: Apparently, the SAT testing service considers none as a singular word only.
Examples     Fifty percent of the pie has disappeared.
Pie is the object of the preposition of.
Fifty percent of the pies have disappeared.
Pies is the object of the preposition.
One-third of the city is unemployed.

One-third of the people are unemployed.

NOTE: Hyphenate all spelled-out fractions.
All of the pie is gone.
All of the pies are gone.
Some of the pie is missing.
Some of the pies are missing.

Rule 10     When either and neither are subjects, they always take singular verbs.
Examples     Neither of them is available to speak right now.
Either of us is capable of doing the job.

Rule 11     The words here and there are never subjects because they are not nouns. In sentences beginning with here or there, the true subject follows the verb.
Examples     There are four hurdles to jump.
There is a high hurdle to jump.

Rule 12     Use a singular verb with sums of money or periods of time.
Examples     Ten dollars is a high price to pay.
Five years is the maximum sentence for that offense.

Rule 13     Sometimes the pronoun who, that, or which is the subject of the verb in the middle of the sentence. The pronouns who, that, and which become singular or plural according to the noun directly in front of them. So if that noun is singular, use a singular verb. If it is plural, use a plural verb.
Examples     Charlene is the scientist who write/writes the reports.
The word in front of who is scientist, which is singular. Therefore, use the singular verb writes.
He is one of the men who does/do the work.
The word in front of who is men, which is plural. Therefore, use the plural verb do.

Rule 14     Collective nouns such as team and staff may be either singular or plural depending on their use in the sentence.
Examples     The staff is in a meeting.
Staff is acting as a unit here.
The staff are in disagreement about the findings.
The staff are acting as separate individuals in this sentence.
The sentence would read even better like this:
The staff members are in disagreement about the findings.

 

4 Responses to “Subject Verb agreement”

  1. alona said

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