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, 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.