Monday Morning Grammar: Subject-Verb Agreement II–Compound Subjects

Over the past couple of weeks on Monday Morning Grammar, we’ve been discussing subject-verb agreement. Last week we went over the basics and how not to get distracted by words getting in the middle of the subject and the verb.

This week we’ll discuss compound subjects, which, when composed of two or more nouns (or pronouns) connected by and usually take a plural verb:

Jim and Derrick go to the movies every weekend.
Comedy, drama, and action are among their favorite genres.

The Exceptions That Prove the Rule

As always, however, there are exceptions. When multiple parts of a subject make up a single unit, they take a singular verb. Often compound subjects of this type are cliches.

Complimentary bread and butter often is often served at restaurants.
Give and take is the foundation of collaboration.

Also, when a compound subject is actually referring to the same person or thing, use a singular verb:

Jim’s friend and partner checks in with him by phone every day.

Compounding the Issue: Or, Nor

When compound subjects are joined by or, nor, either … or, or neither … nor, however, the situation gets a bit trickier. In these cases, the verb should agree with the subject closest to it:

Jim or Derrick buys the tickets.
Jim nor their friends trust Derrick to pick what movie they’re going to see.
Either dollar bills or a credit card is accepted by the ticket machine.

Not on the Compound

Sometimes singular subjects are connected to other nouns with words and phrases such as with, as well as, in addition to, except, together with, no less than, etc. These are not conjunctions, however, so the subjects in these cases remain singular:

Jim, as well as Derrick, likes documentaries, too.
A movie, together with dinner before and drinks after, is their favorite way to spend a Saturday night.

Next week on Monday Morning Grammar: pronoun-verb agreement.

Resources

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

Strunk Jr., William, and White, E.B. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2000.

Caught in the ’Net

Sister U.K. papers the Guardian and Observer launch a seven-part series on how to write.

Txt spk may not be as bad as it’s been made out to be.

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