Let’s Talk Grammar: 5 Rules of Subject-Verb Agreement

May 30, 2019 4:14 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

‘’Many of our teachers is working hard to provide you quality education.’’
‘’They has started to talk about students problems openly’’
‘’Here’s the new blogs posts you would like to read.’’

Something is wrong about these sentences. Can you point them out?

If you took more than two minutes to find out the mistakes then this blog post is for you! 
The rest? Follow me to avoid future mistakes

On a daily basis, students make numerous grammatical mistakes in their writings –article, fragments, tenses, unnecessary passive sentences, etc, —  but the most contagious of all is the Subject/Verb Agreement mistakes in their English paper which causes them to lose their marks.

Everywhere around the world, the ability to learn any language differs from person to person. The English Language is no exception. In Pakistan, most of the students are taught English as a secondary language (ESL) right from the beginning of school education but still, mistakes are committed by students on a regular basis. Among those common mistakes, Subject-Verb Agreement mistakes remain the center of attraction for all of us.

Currently, our focus is on one aspect of Grammar i.e., SVA through which students can improve their writing skills. These skills are most important and somewhat difficult for the students using English as a second language because the formation of a correct sentence depends on certain rules.

In this blog post, we are looking to understand what is Subject/Verb Agreement and how to avoid them to occur in your English paper whether you are appearing from Sindh Board or Punjab Board. These grammatical rules are global rules and must be kept in mind.


What are the SUBJECT/VERB AGREEMENT rules?

To begin with, let me start with a quick review of Subjects of English. It may sound easy and repetitive but stay with me as this will get complicated.

At the heart of every sentence, two things are present– Subject and Verb.

The very basic: There are three types of People in English. 1st Person( When I am talking about myself) 2nd Person (When I am involved in a direct talk with another person/people) 3rd Person(When I am talking about people who are not present at the moment). As these Subjects vary, the Verb keeps on changing to agree with the person and numbers.

Person Singular Plural
1st 2nd 3rd
I You He/She/It
We You They

 

The second essential part of a sentence is the Verb to-be that agrees with the person and the number.

For example:

Person Singular Plural
1st I-am/was We-are/were
2nd You-are/were You – are/were
3rd He/She/It – is/was They – are/were

 

Note: Sometimes the implied subject of a sentence may be omitted, as the reader/listener knows what is being talked about and address to whom. 

For instance,

  • Close that door!

Here it understood that there is another person present at the time of this command.

Looking at the bigger picture: The learning of writing skills depends upon the student’s ability as to how he or she manages the sentence with correct SVA. From reviewing our basic concepts regarding the subject, we can say that understanding of Singular and Plural nouns is very essential in the correct formation of sentences.

The problem arises when some students do not recognize simple sentences using pronouns “he” or “she” where one has to use “s” or “es” after the first form of the Verb, and they get confused.  This usually happens in the beginning stage where mistakes are done while dealing with subject-verb agreement.

Are you still with me so far? It is going easy right?

After studying the basics now we can easily put ‘am’ whenever we see ‘I’. Similarly, when we will see ‘’He’’ our immediate response would be to put ‘is/was’ to agree with the subject. With basic grammatical rules, students cannot mess with them. However, this is not as easy as it seems.

Think for a minute: how many times do you start an essay with I/We in your examinations?

Almost Never

The complicating factor of Subject-Verb Agreement is not related to persons as a subject but agreeing with the numbers, i.e.,


          Singular or Plural?

Whenever we talk about subjects, we consciously or unconsciously tell the subject in numbers. Such as, subjects are either Singular(One) or Plural (More than one).

For example:

  1. Tom, our cat, is fond of playing with a woolen ball.
  2. Most of the cats are fond of playing with the woolen ball.

In the sentence(i), the subject is singular hence it takes the singular verb.

In the sentence(ii), our subject of the sentence ‘’ most of the cats’’ is in the plural (more than one) that is why the verb agrees with its verb.

Well, Ma’am, it is still easy I do follow these rules. But why then I make SVA mistakes?

The problem arises when students cannot simply find out the subject of the sentence and its number.


Confusing Subjects?

Everybody, pause and think for a minute–Is everybody a singular subject or  Plural?

Logically, this seems that there is more than one person involved in this subject and so it is plural. However, it is wrong.

Everybody or Everyone is a Singular Subject.

Rule no. 1  Word like anybody, everybody, anyone, everyone, someone, somebody, no one, each, etc., are called INDEFINITE PRONOUN and they are always considered as a single subject.

Each of us are trying hard to learn this Subject-Verb Agreement rules. (Wrong) 👎
Each of us is trying hard to learn this Subject-Verb Agreement rules. (Correct) 👍

Take another example:

Everyone have an equal chance in life to succeed. (Wrong) 👎
Everyone has an equal chance in life to succeed. (Correct) 👍

So there are words that may look like a plural body, but in reality, they act as a single unit.

Now coming to its counterpart.

There are words that may look singular but in actual they are plural. This can make us commit a grammatical mistake if we are not conscious enough. BEWARE OF TRICKY NOUNS

Okay, Scissors or scissor? 🤔

This word may seem singular but do not get distracted by its name. It is a plural noun. Hence, whenever words like scissors, pants, trousers, etc are made up of paired items; and when they come into the sentence they take the help of a plural verb.

e.g.,

My trousers have two butterflies printed on it.👍
My trousers has two butterflies printed on it. 👎

My scissors are old and rusty now.👍
My scissors is old and rusty now 👎
or
My pair of scissors is old and rusty now👍

Moreover, academic disciplines such as Mathematics, Physics, Politics, Ethics, etc, and diseases like Mumps, measles, pox, etc may appear plural because of its ‘s’ ending, but they are singular in nature. Therefore a singular verb is required.

Politics is one of the interesting subjects for many students.
Mathematics is disliked by all of my friends.

Rule no.2 Verb+ing Nouns(Gerunds) 

Take for an instance:

  • Gerunds functioning as a noun(the subject of the sentence) should be followed by a singular verb.

Exercising keeps your body healthy.
Cooking at home costs cheaper than going to a restaurant to eat.
Window shopping is a hobby for many people.

In the sentences above, the gerund is used as the subject of the sentence. To give a brief review of gerund– they are action verbs with +ing ending but classified as a noun.

Similarly, Gerunds is often followed by a plural noun. However, keep in mind:

  • Gerunds are used as a singular unit and they should be followed by a singular verb.

Dancing on the cliffs is dangerous.
Cooking meals at home is cheaper than eating out.
Reading newspapers is a good way to improve your English vocabulary.

  • When multiple gerunds are joined together with the help of AND then a singular or a plural verb will be followed according to the subject of the sentence.

Case1: Two similar Gerunds joined, stands as a single subject of the sentence. Therefore, should take the singular verb.

Texting while driving leads to a high number of fatal accidents every year.
Peanut butter and jam is my favorite sandwich. 

Case2: Two gerund joined together by AND representing different activities should follow Plural Verb.

Hiking and cooking are my hobbies.
A cat and a dog are running on the street.

Rule no.3 Words coming in between the subject and the verb do not affect the agreement:

Sometimes, there are additional informational phrases within the sentence, sets off by the commas, that confuse students to keep track of the subject of a sentence. In that case, always remember such phrases do not affect the agreement of the Subject-Verb.

That girl, who is wearing a grey jacket, is my neighbor.
Sara, the optician, is coming to our birthday party.

Rule no. 4  In compound subjects joined by either/or, neither/nor,  the verb should agree with the subject that is near to the verb.

This is an important rule. You have to memorize it.

Neither the teacher nor the students were aware of the new fire drill in school.
Neither the students nor the teacher was aware of the new fire drill in school.

Either the cat or her kittens have spilled over the milk in the kitchen.
Either the kittens or the cat has spilled over the milk in the kitchen.

Rule no. 5 nouns acting as a collection

What about that noun group?

Of the type of a noun is called Collective noun that refers to a group of singular item. When such a group comes in as a subject of the sentence, then a singular verb must be taken to agree with its number.

The committee has agreed to pass the new office policy on Friday.
The jury has made its decision.

Explanations– Were you able to identify the Mistakes in the above 1st Paragraph?

Sentence no. 1
‘’Many of our teachers is working hard to provide you quality education.’’

In this sentence, the subject of our sentence is Plural ‘’Many of the teachers’’ then a plural verb must be followed.

Correction: ‘’Many of our teachers are working hard to provide you quality education.’’

Sentence no.2  
‘’They has started to talk about students problems openly’’
According to the rule, ‘’Has’’ is used for 3rd person singular. Whereas they indicate the plurality on the number of people.  That is why it is incorrect to say ‘’They has’’

Correction: ‘’They have started to talk about students problems openly’’

Sentence no.3 
‘’Here is the new blogs posts you would like to read.’
Words like Here and There at the beginning of the sentence follows the same Subject-Verb Agreement rule.
That is why the word here is not in agreement with Blogs post which is more than one item.

Correction: Here are the new blog posts you would like to read
Or
Here is the new blog post you would like to read. 

Top 5 Subject-Verb Agreement Rules:

  1. Your verbs must agree in both persons and in numbers of the subject
  2. A sentence that has two different subjects and is joined by ‘’AND’’ should use a plural verb.
  3. Indefinite Pronouns are always SINGULAR
  4. Gerunds functions as a noun(the subject of the sentence) should be followed by a singular verb.
  5. Sometimes a sentence is modified with additional information set off by commas–do not get distracted by this extra information, keep a keen eye on the Subject and make the Verb agree to its number.

Pro Tip:

  1. Locate the Subject of the sentence
  2. Identify if the subject is singular or plural
  3. Locate the Verb
  4. Make the Verb agree with the Subject

Some Recommendations:

Subject-verb agreement errors are important to understand so that they can be avoided in the papers. The rules of the agreement should be practiced by the learners intensively by means of using different activities such as group work, pair work, etc so as to help them internalize these rules.

It is also important that students at this intermediate level learn to find out their mistakes in writing as well as be able to proofread their content.

In this blog post, I have listed out the possible source of errors which most of the students are not aware at this level. I therefore strongly recommend that special focus should be given on subject-verb agreement so that students can write mistakes free-essays in the examinations.

If all these suggestions are taken into account, perhaps, the prevalence of subject-verb agreement errors might decrease.

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This post was written by My Inter Academy

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