Does you Disagrees? Sorting Out Subject-Verb Agreement

two_parts_subject_subject_verb_agreement

 

Errors in subject-verb agreement is one of the most common writing and speaking errors.

Errors in subject-verb agreement are one of the most common writing and speaking errors.

Which sentence is correct, the first or second? If you said the second, you are right. If you said the first, read on.

The examples above demonstrate a common error, but one that can be easily remedied. All you have to know is what the subject and verb are in the sentence. In the examples above, “Errors” is the subject and “is” or “are” works as the verb. The second sentence, the correct sentence, uses “are” as the verb, which is plural. Since the noun, “Errors” is plural, they are in agreement. Plural nouns must have plural verbs, just as singular nouns must have singular verbs. Simple? Not always.

The subject and verb must agree in number and person. As you learned in last week’s post on “be” verbs, the singular form of “be” is “is” and the singular form of “have” is “has.”

  • Use the singular verb form with the subjects she, he, it, anyone, anybody, each, each one, either, neither, everyone, everybody, nobody, somebody, someone, and no one and any singular noun.
  • All other singular verbs are formed by adding an “s” or “es” to the end for the word, such as goes, walks, writes, sees.
  • Use plural verbs when the subject is I, you, we, they, and any plural noun. Adding an “s” or “es” to a noun creates a plural noun but adding “s” or “es” to a present tense verb makes it singular.


Examples of Number Agreement:

Singular subject with singular verb:

My grandmother writes beautiful poems.

Plural subject with plural verb:

My grandparents live on a farm.


Agreement of person means the subject and verb must both be in the same person — first, second, or third:

Examples of Person Agreement:

First Person = I, we

We stay with my parents when we travel to Florida.

I take classes in the summer so I can travel in the fall.

Second Person = you

You are lucky the police didn’t check your identification.

You believe everything salespeople tell you.

 

Third Person = he, she, it, they

He requires students to purchase his memoir.

They are not flying to the World Series in St. Louis, but they will drive.

She works the night shift at the discount store and he babysits their kids.

 

Subject-verb agreement, in the above examples, seems simple. However, sometimes it’s difficult to determine the identity of a sentence’s subject and if the subject and verb are singular or plural, especially if the subject and verb are separated by a phrase.

To determine what the real subject is, ask yourself, what is the verb? In other words, look for the action, and then determine “who?” or “what” the action relates to:

Ex: The letter was mailed at the post office.

Verb = was mailed

Subject (who or what was mailed?) = letter

Ex: The car swerved in the road to avoid the deer.

Verb = swerved

Subject (who or what swerved?) = car

Ex. One of the windows was left unlocked.

Verb = was

Subject = One

Ex. The coach, as well as the players, is nervous.

Verb = is

Subject = the coach

Ex. The book, including the preface, is tedious to read.  

Verb = is

Subject = book

 

Be especially careful when sentences are out of the usual subject-verb pattern:

 Under the bed were the missing earrings.

 There are many reasons for her success.

 There is one particular reason for her success.


Collective Nouns

Collective nouns, or nouns that imply more than one person, are considered singular and require a singular verb. Common collective nouns are group, team, and family:

 The group camps in the city park.

 The team runs sprints before each game.

 The family has a unique background.

If you ever find yourself stuck trying to determine if a collective noun is singular or plural, avoid the issue by inserting a word to ascertain the individuals in the group:

Ex. The jury is/are still in deliberations. (Which is it?)

The members of the jury are still in deliberations. (“Members” is easily identified as plural.)

 

As you can see, subject-verb agreement can be tricky. Knowing how to identify the subject and verb  of a sentence is the first step overcoming this common writing mistake.


WRITE ON!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

To BE or not to BE: Reduce “to be” verbs to improve your writing

images

 

 

 

 

 

 

Developing writers often rely on “to be” verbs when communicating action. To-be verbs are all forms of “be”: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been. In some student papers, English teachers might find “is” as the verb in the majority of sentences. Even professional writers struggle with the over-reliance on “is” as a verb. So what is so wrong with using “is” and other to-be verbs in writing? Oh dear! I just used is as a verb in that last sentence!

Take a look at the following example:

The girl is pretty.

What does “pretty” look like? Is creates a vague description. What does the girl’s pretty actually look like?

The girl has flowing auburn hair, crimson lips, and eyes I could drown in for days.

In the first example, the is verb creates a lazy sentence; it isn’t showing the reader anything specific. The second example shows the reader exactly what pretty is.

 

Sometimes eliminating to-be verbs is simply a matter of substituting another word in the place of “is.”

The chocolate chip cookies sure were good.

The chocolate chip cookies sure tasted good.

That dress is lovely.

That dress looks lovely.

The kitten is so soft.

The kitten feels so soft.

In the previous examples, you could also show what good, lovely, and soft taste, look, and feel like to create an even more vivid description.

 

Eliminating to-be verbs can also be accomplished by changing a noun into a verb, as in the following example:

The tutor was the winner of the “Teacher of the Year” award.

The tutor won the “Teacher of the Year” award.

 Diane Sawyer is an anchor on World New Tonight.

 Diane Sawyer anchors World News Tonight.

 By changing the noun into a verb, the previous examples are also now more concise.

 

 In some cases, you can rearrange the word order in sentences to eliminate “to-be” verbs:

The snakes were slithering in the pit.

 In the pit the snakes slithered.

 

 The assassin was in the dark alley waiting.

 In the dark alley waited the assassin.

 

As you can see, there are many ways to reduce the amount of to-be verbs from your writing.

Let me restate:

As you can see, many ways exist to reduce the amount of to-be verbs from your writing.

It would be impossible to eliminate all to-be verbs from our writing, and sometimes we just need to use them when nothing else will do. However, the over-reliance on “is” and other forms of the verb creates weak sentences and vague descriptions. Knowing when – and how often – to use them is the first step in improving your style. I’ve chosen to use a few, and edit out a few, in this article. Using to-be verbs isn’t incorrect, but a stylistic choice.  Choose carefully.

 

Editing Tip:

Open your essay in a WORD document.

Under “Editing,” select “Find”;

Type in “is” with spaces around it, so “space, is, space” (this eliminates finding “is” in every word;

All “is” should be highlighted in the entire document. Do you see any paragraphs with an overabundance of is as a verb? Revise by incorporating the previous suggestions.

Follow by running a “Find” on the other “to-be” forms: am, are, was, were, be, being, and been.

How did you do?

 

Style Watch: How to Construct Effective Sentences

Part II: Conciseness

wordy

In last week’s post, we discussed the importance of emphasizing important ideas in sentences. This week, we’re focusing on the other essential element in effective sentences: conciseness.

Conciseness is simply direct, succinct writing. Get to the point and use the most effective words to construct the most effective sentence. Although concise writing doesn’t always mean to use the fewest words, fewer words generally create tighter writing.  Take out the dead weight, meaning, omit any words that are not contributing something important, or are saying the same thing you’ve already said using different words.

Redundancy

Let’s consider the final sentence in the previous paragraph:

Take out the dead weight, meaning, omit any words that are not contributing something important, or are saying the same thing you’ve already said using different words.

The second part of this sentence could be reworded to use fewer words, as in the example below:

Take out the dead weight, meaning, omit any words that are not contributing something important, and avoid redundancy.

Saying the same thing you’ve already said using different words and avoid redundancy mean the same thing. The revised version is more direct, and the message is communicated more clearly. Fewer words = less confusion.

Redundant Phrases

It’s also common for writers to refer to a color or size, describing something as “blue in color” or “large in size.” In color and in size are unnecessary, as it’s a given that blue is a color and large is a size, right?

Here are a few more examples of redundant phrases:

Compulsory a Attendance during exam week is required.

The basic fundamental reason he won is he raised more money.

Eliminate Empty Words

Empty words contribute no essential information to a sentence. Some of the most common empty words in student essays are definitely, very, really, and literally.

The research definitely shows that meditation improves physical and mental health.

The paper was very interesting.  OR The paper was fascinating.

They were really trying hard to get the bill passed.

He was literally dying of his own germs.

Wordy Phrases

Many times, wordy phrases can be reduced to a word or two while retaining the meaning:

At the present time  Today our business has no deficit.  

The end result is death if a patient is not treated within twenty-four hours.

The final outcome will be difficult to determine.

Because of the fact that NASA has cut funding, our space missions are in jeopardy.

Replace Vague Words with Specific Words

Writers sometimes use too many vague words to express a concept when a more precise word would communicate more clearly.

Wordy: The governor talked about several of the merits of mandatory recycling in his speech.

Specific: The governor touted mandatory recycling in his speech.

Vague: The thing was to get as many volunteers as possible.

Specific: The objective was to get as many volunteers as possible.

As you can see, constructing effective sentences is one sure way of improving your writing immediately. Avoiding redundancy and eliminating wordiness will create clear, concise writing. Edit your sentences, keeping a close eye on each word, and ask yourself if each word is contributing to the meaning of the sentence. Concise writing is not always a matter of using fewer words, but using more effective words as well.

Practice Sentences

Make each of the sentences more clear and concise by eliminating unnecessary words and phrases:

1.    One of the major problems that is faced at this point in time is that here is world hunger.  

2.    At the present time, many different forms of hazing occur, such as various forms of physical abuse and also mental abuse.  

3.    I would call your attention to the fact that our former President, who was formerly the Governor of Arkansas, is basically a Southerner.

 

 (Some examples from The St. Martin’s Handbook)

 

 

 

 

Style Watch: How to Construct Effective Sentences

Part I: Emphasis
(Part II next week: Conciseness)CaptureHave you ever read something, and then had to go back and read it again because you couldn’t understand what the writer was trying to communicate? Has an instructor ever written, “confusingly worded” or “reword” on your papers? Ever wonder exactly what makes up an effective sentence?

Effective sentences basically have two main characteristics, according to Andrea Lunsford, editor of The St. Martin’s Handbook:
#1: They emphasize ideas clearly.
#2: They do so as concisely as possible.

Simple, right?

If sentences are clear but the arrangement of word order prevents important information from taking center stage, it’s a problem of emphasis. In addition, many college students falsely believe they must use academic jargon and wordy, complicated sentence structure to sound, well, academic. Doing so only hinders the writing, the message getting lost in complicated construction and five-dollar words. This is an issue of conciseness.  This week we’ll discuss how to improve emphasis.

Positions of Emphasis

What do you remember when you read a sentence? Usually you’ll remember the end of the sentence. Consider this sentence:

Effective sentences basically have two main characteristics.

I wanted to emphasize the “two main characteristics,” so I placed that phrase at the end position.

Slightly less dominant but still a principal position, is the opening of the sentence.

Effective sentences basically have two main characteristics.

The secondary importance of this sentence but still important is “effective sentences.”

Let’s look at another example, with two different word orders:

The couple gave $100,000 to the zoo fundraising drive last night.

What is the most important information in the above sentence? If you said the amount of the donation, $100,000, you’re right. If the final position of the sentence emphasizes the words in that spot, when the donation was given – “last night,” is emphasized, and not the donation, which is significant and important. Let’s rearrange the word order to emphasize the amount, and not the time.

Last night, the couple gave the zoo fundraising drive $100,000.

In this revised example, the amount is now emphasized, creating a more dramatic structure.

Climactic Order

When you present ideas in climactic order, the most important ideas or items of a series are in the final position, placing force behind the words for dramatic effect.

Kristy’s behavior annoyed her classmates, angered her instructor, and enraged her boyfriend.

The protesters risked family rejection, brutal imprisonment, and almost certain death.

Saving the most dramatic item for the last position communicates a more powerful message.

Look at the following example that is not in climactic order, and consider how you might revise it for the most dramatic emphasis:

Video games damage our eyes, destroy our brains, and harm our ears.

Consider this:

Video games hurt our ears, damage our eyes, and destroy our brains.

Placing “destroy our brains” in the final position creates a greater emotional impact.

In your final editing stages, spend time critically thinking about sentence structure.  Your writing be more clear and fluid, and pack a more powerful emotional punch.  Now you try!

For Fun

Which of the following sentences in each group correctly highlight the most important items in the sentence?

1.

At the 1994 Winter Olympics, Nancy Kerrigan went on to receive the silver medal in figure skating despite the preceding media circus.

Despite the media circus preceding the 1994 Winter Olympics, Nancy Kerrigan went on to receive the silver medal in figure skating.

Nancy Kerrigan went on to receive the silver medal in figure skating at the 1994 Winter Olympics, despite the preceding media circus.

2.

The presence of the Indian in these movies always conjures up destructive stereotypes of bloodthirsty war parties, horse theft, and drunkenness.

The presence of the Indian in these movies always conjures up destructive stereotypes of drunkenness, horse theft, and bloodthirsty war parties.

Destructive stereotypes of bloodthirsty war parties, horse theft, and drunkenness always are conjured up by the presence of the Indian in these movies.

3.

Victorian women were warned that if they smoked, they would become sterile, grow a mustache, die young, or contract tuberculosis.

Victorian women were warned of the side effects of smoking: they would become sterile, grow a mustache, die young, or contract tuberculosis.

Victorian women were warned that smoking would cause them to grow a mustache, contract tuberculosis, become sterile, or die young.

4.

A crowd gathered, the stranded whale wriggled off the sandy beach, and a chorus of seagulls cried shrilly.

A crowd gathered, a chorus of seagulls cried shrilly, and the stranded whale wriggled off the sandy beach.

The stranded whale wriggled off the sandy beach after a crowd had gathered and while a chorus of seagulls cried shrilly.

5.

In 1998, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire both shattered the old home run record while their respective teams did poorly.

Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire both shattered the old home run record while their respective teams did poorly in 1998.

In 1998, while their respective teams did poorly, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire both shattered the old home run record.

(Examples above from Bedford St. Martin’s Exercise Central)

 

Next Week – Part II Style Watch: Conciseness