Making Subjects & Verbs Agree
(printable version here)
Many writers have problems with subject-verb agreement (having singular nouns with singular verbs, and plural nouns with plural verbs). Sometimes, these slip-ups are glaringly obvious:
ex. Bob are a college student.
In many sentences, however, word groups intervene between the subject and verb:
ex. Today, writing papers with word processors are much easier. (what's the problem here?)
The easiest way to check your subject-verb agreement is to take out any word groups (usually subject modifiers) between the subject and verb:
ex. Today, writing is much easier.
Changing the sentence in this manner, however, changes the meaning. Reorganizing the sentence clears up the problem while retaining meaning:
ex. Word processors make writing papers much easier.
When you edit, look for these common trouble spots:
Make the verb agree with its subject, not with the words that come between the subject and verb:
ex. The woman who made those cakes is our next-door neighbor. (woman is, not cakes are)
With compound subjects that are connected by "and", "or", "nor", "either . . . or", "neither . . . nor":
Use a plural verb for subjects connected by "and":
ex. The dog and cat seem to be good friends.
Use a singular verb for subjects joined by "or" or "nor":
ex. Either John or Karen is available to answer your questions this afternoon.
When a singular subject and a plural subject are joined by "or", "nor", or "neither . . . nor", the verb agrees with the nearer subject:
ex. Neither the zoo keeper nor the police were able to find the missing boa constrictor.
With collective nouns when the verb depends upon the nature of the subject:
ex. A number of companies are hiring Y2K specialists. (Here, a plural verb because the companies are not acting as one body but rather as a number of individuals).
ex. The consortium of companies is hiring more Y2K specialists. (Here, "consortium of companies" implies that the companies are acting together as a single entity).
Back to 'Sentence Structure and Mechanics'
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