Tag Archives: subject-verb agreement

Monday Morning Grammar: Subject-Verb Agreement IV—Inverted Sentence Construction and Linking Verbs

In this final installment of Mots Justes’ series on subject-verb agreement, we’ll examine funky sentence constructions.

In most sentences, the subject comes first, followed by the verb. However, sometimes the verb comes before the subject. This can cause confusion, but make sure that the verb still agrees with the subject:

On the hard drive is a copy of Jim’s resume.
In the printer are Derrick’s letters of recommendation.

Often inverted sentences start with there is or there are:

There is one job opening at the company where Derrick works.
There are several applicants for the position.

Finally, sometimes linking verbs (be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been) link singular subjects with plural subject complements or vice versa. In these cases, make sure the linking verb agrees with the subject:

The most popular act in the talent show was Jim and Derrick’s comedy sketches.
Their absurd costumes and deadpan delivery are the core of their comedy.

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.

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Monday Morning Grammar: Subject-Verb Agreement III—Indefinite and Relative Pronouns

So far in Mots Justes’ continuing series on subject-verb agreement, we’ve covered the basics and compound subjects. Let’s move on now to the tricky matter of indefinite and relative pronouns.

Nothing’s Definite

Indefinite pronouns substitute for nonspecific nouns. They include any, anybody, anyone, each, either, everybody, everyone, everything, neither, none, no one, someone, and something. Usually indefinite pronouns are treated as singular:

Is anyone going to Jim’s new art exhibit this weekend?
Everybody agrees that Derrick should skip the concert to go to Jim’s show.

As usual, there are exceptions. None and neither take singular verbs when they are used alone:

None is willing to miss Jim and Derrick’s annual Halloween party.
Neither has ever not celebrated the holiday.

However, when a prepositional phrase following none or neither suggests a plural meaning, use a plural verb:

None of their friends wear costumes as elaborate as Jim and Derrick do.
Neither of the hosts spare any expense when it comes to dressing up for Halloween.

Also, a handful of indefinite pronouns—all, any, and some—takes a singular or plural verb depending on the number of its antecedent:

All of the kegs have already been tapped.
However, some of the beer is still left in pitchers.

It’s All Relative

Relative pronouns set up subordinate clauses that modify a noun or pronoun. They include who, whom, whose, which, and that. Relative pronouns take the verb number that agrees with their antecedents:

Jim, who is a photographer, incorporates pictures of his friends into his artwork.
Derrick composes lyrics that tell stories from his life.

Adding to the complexity of relative pronoun-verb agreement are the phrases one of the … and only one of the …. Generally, one of the … takes a plural verb, while only one of the … takes a singular:

One of the things that always attract partygoers to Jim and Derrick’s Halloween bash is the elaborate themed buffet.

Here, the antecedent of that is things, not one.

Elisha is the only one of their friends that does not come in costume.

But here the antecedent of that is one.

Next week on Monday Morning Grammar, we wrap up our series on subject-verb agreement with a post on funky sentence construction.

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

Playwright Mark Ravenhill writes about how writers shouldn’t write about writing.

Here are “12 Greek Works You Should Know.”

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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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Monday Morning Grammar: Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb agreement can trip up even professional writers and editors. There’s an error of this type on the back cover of Grammar Girl, and the New York Times recently acknowledged making similar mistakes.

Last week on Monday Morning Grammar, we discussed collective nouns. This week let’s take a step back and review the basics of subject-verb agreement.

Stay in Agreement

Singular nouns require singular verbs, and plural nouns require plural verbs:

Jim rides his bike to school.
The boys take the bus to school.

Last week we discussed collective nouns, which describe a group but act singular. There are also nouns that look plural but are actually singular and so take singular verbs:

Athletics is a popular extracurricular activity for high schoolers.
The measles still endangers many lives.

Other examples of singular nouns that look plural include economics, mathematics, physics, statistics, headquarters, politics, and news.

There are exceptions to this rule, however, when words such as athletics, mathematics, physics, and statistics describe separate items rather than a collective body of knowledge:

The physics of how bees fly seem scientifically impossible.

Don’t Get Distracted by Interruptions

Sometimes a subject and verb are separated in a sentence. A modifier or prepositional phrase, sometimes containing additional nouns, may come between the subject and verb:

The dog at the pound needs a good home.
The fresh herbs at the farmer’s market smell delicious.

Don’t get distracted by these interruptions. To make sure your subject and verb agree, simplify the sentence by removing extra words or phrases until you have just the subject and the verb.

Next week we’ll continue to discuss subject-verb agreement with a post on compound subjects.

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.

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