Writer's WebMaking Subjects & Verbs Agree

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).


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