AGREEMENT OF SUBJECT AND VERB: Is it Singular or Plural?
How to Make a Verb and Its Subject Agree in Number
It is easy to make a verb agree in number with its subject. Common errors occur when a writer mistakes the wrong word for the subject, or because the writer analyzes the subject incorrectly. Here is a cheat sheet of common errors and their corrections.
TIP # 1: Words between the Subject and the Verb. When we have words intervening between the subject and the verb, the careless writer sometimes makes the verb agree with the real subject, instead of the nearest noun.
Wrong: The resourcefulness of business women and teachers have already overcome many problems.
Right: The resourcefulness of business women and teachers has already overcome many problems.
TIP # 2: The Subject Following the Verb. When the subject follows the verb, instead of preceding it, make sure the verb agrees with the subject.
Wrong: In my bank statement is given the security, rate of interest, and terms of payment.
Right: In my bank statement are given the security, rate of interest, and terms of payment.
Better: The security, rate of interest, and terms of payment are in my bank statement.
Wrong: The tennis racquet consists of a frame in which is mounted two loop holes.
Right: The tennis racquet consists of a frame in which are mounted two loop holes.
Better: Two loop holes are mounted in the frame of the tennis racquet.
TIP # 3: After the expletive there, the verb is singular if the subjectwhich follows the verbis singular; it is plural, if the subject is plural.
Right: There was an unavoidable delay in printing the reports.
Right: There were unavoidable delays in printing the reports.
TIP # 4: Expressions like "one of the best." In a relative clause following expressions such as one of the best, the first of many, and the like, the verb is plural because the relative clause refers to the class as a whole, not to the one element of the class.
Wrong: One of the greatest questions that is before the American people is the problem of taxes.
Right: One of the greatest questions that are before the American people is the problem of taxes.
TIP # 5: Expressions Introduced by Together With, As Well As, In Addition To, After. Connectives like together with, as well as, in addition to, and after, do not affect the number of the subject. The verb agrees with the word or words to which the expression introduced by these connectives is affixed.
Wrong: The low price of the dress, together with its durability, make it very fashionable.
Right: The low price of the dress, together with its durability, makes it very fashionable.
Right: The low price of the dress and its durability make it very fashionable.
Wrong: A report of the Council meeting, as well as a list of the new officers, are printed on the second page.
Right: A report of the Council meeting, as well as a list of the new officers, is printed on the second page.
Tip #6: None. If you use the word "none" as the subject, you can use a singular or a plural verb; the choice depends on the meaning.
Right: None of the players have arrived.
Right: None of the milk was spilled.
Some writers always use a singular verb after none. This is the older practice and is still correct, but it is better to follow the example above.
Tip #7: EitherOr, NeitherNor. With a compound subject whose members are connected by eitheror, neither nor, use a singular verb if the separate units are singular; use a plural verb if the units are plural.
Right: Either the computer or the harddrive is (not are) defective.
Right: Neither the writers nor the publishers were responsible.
When one member of the subject is singular and the other is plural, make the verb agree with the nearer noun.
Right: Neither the bus nor the occupants were injured.
However, sometimes it is better to avoid this construction by rephrasing the sentence: "Both the bus and the occupants were uninjured."
TIP #8: Compound Subject Connected by And. A compound subject whose members are connected by and takes a plural verb.
Right: Rapidity and accuracy in using this computer are acquired only by steady practice.
TIP #9: Each, Every, Everybody, Anybody. When one of the pronouns everybody, anybody, everyone, anyone, and the like, or a word or series of words introduced by each or every, is used as the subject, use a singular verb.
Right: Everybody in the audience was (not were) not scared.
Right: Every man, woman, and child is (not are) invited to the play.
TIP #10: Collective Nouns. If a sentence has a collective noun as the subject, then use a singular verb when the group is regarded as a unit; use a plural verb when the action involves individual members of the group.
Right: The group has declined the party invitation.
Right: The audience are asked to invite their friends.
Right: The jury is in session.
Right: The jury are unable to agree on a verdict.
This rule, however, is not firmly observed. The tendency is to use the singular verb except in cases where it is visibly irrational. In the last sentence above, the singular verb is would be allowed; but in the second, is requested would not express the exact idea.
TIP #11: Singular Subject and Plural Predicate Noun (or Vice Versa). When the subject is singular and the predicate noun is plural, or vice versa, the verb agrees with the subject, not with the predicate noun.
Right: The best time for sleep is (not are) after I have watched a T.V. show.
Right: Our many successful graduates are (not is) excellent examples of how to succeed in life.
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