Usage Errors Study Guide: Pre-GED Language Arts, Writing
The practice quiz for this study guide can be found at:
This article will help you to recognize correct usage of verbs and pronouns, and correct errors in subject-verb agreement, verb tense, and pronoun reference.
On the writing portion of the GED, 30 percent of the questions address usage errors. You will be expected to recognize correct grammar and make revisions to errors in subject-verb agreement, verb tense, and pronoun reference. As you already know, every sentence has a subject and a verb. The subject tells who or what the sentence is about; the verb tells who/what the subject is or does. Pronouns are words that take the place of a noun. Consider the following sentences:
Rinaldo watched a movie on TV. During commercials, Rinaldo folded laundry.
These sentences are about Rinaldo, so he is the subject. Watched and folded tell what he did, so these are the verbs.
Rinaldo watched a movie on TV. During commercials, he folded laundry.
Notice that in the previous example, the word he takes the place of Rinaldo in the second sentence. He is a pronoun. In this chapter, we will review agreement of these parts of speech. We will also review other rules of verb and pronoun usage that you will be expected to know.
Every sentence has a subject. Sometimes the subject is singular, which means the sentence is about one person or thing; other times the subject is plural, meaning the sentence is about more than one subject. Let's take a look at the following sentence:
Lola hosted the event. Ivan and Nicole were on the guest list.
The first sentence has a singular subject, Lola. The second sentence has more than one subject, Ivan and Nicole. Verbs can be singular or plural as well. Subject-verb agreement simply means that singular subjects must have a singular verb and plural subjects must have plural verbs. Consider the following sentences:
Mr. Robbins is my English teacher.
Ms. Patel and Mrs. Rodriguez are my math teachers.
The verb is is a singular verb, which agrees with the singular subject in the first sentence. The verb are is a plural verb, which agrees with the plural subject in the second sentence.
Now it's your turn to practice. Use what you know about subject-verb agreement to answer the following question. Which correction should be made to the following sentence?
My cousins works at the movie theater on Lincoln Street.
- insert three before cousins
- replace cousins with aunt and uncle
- insert will before works
- replace works with work
- replace works with goes to
This sentence has a plural subject, so it must have a plural verb. The corrected sentence would be My cousins work at the movie theater on Lincoln Street. The singular verb in the original sentence, works, needs a singular subject, as in Jannelle works at the movie theater on Lincoln Street.
Agreement in Number
Sometimes a group of people may be considered singular. For example, businesses, teams, and institutions are singular. Take a look at the following sentences:
The University believes all students should receive and equal education.
The court was in session all day. It begins again at 8:00 tomorrow morning.
Notice that singular verbs are used in these sentences. Also notice that the court is replaced by the pronoun it, not they, reinforcing the fact that the court is singular. Other examples of singular subjects include:
- George Washington High School
- Pacific Coast Medical Center
- Franco's Bait and Tackle Shop
- The Dallas Cowboys
There are also times when a verb form is the subject of a sentence. A gerund is a verb which ends in –ing and serves as a noun, as in the following sentences:
Talking is not permitted during the test.
Arriving at school before the first bell has many advantages.
Notice that these gerunds are singular subjects, and they use singular verbs.
When the words either or neither are the subject of a sentence, they are singular, unless followed by or and nor. Either… or and neither…nor are plural subjects, as in the following sentences:
Either of the times is convenient.
Neither Wednesday nor Saturday appointments are available.
Either is the singular subject of the first sentence because it does not appear with the word or. Neither is the plural subject of the second sentence because it is followed by the word nor.
That seems simple enough, doesn't it? Let's go a little further. When either and neither are paired with or and nor, they serve as correlative conjunctions, meaning that they are used to link two words together. The words they link must be the same type; nouns can be linked to nouns, verbs can be linked to verbs, and adjectives can be linked to adjectives. Common pairs of correlative conjunctions include:
When a sentence contains correlative conjunctions, you must determine whether the subject closest to the verb is singular or plural. Take a look at the following sentence:
Whether the students or their teacher is talking, everyone should listen respectfully.
Students and teacher are the subjects in this sentence. These nouns are joined by the correlative con-junctions whether… or. Since teacher is the subject closest to the verb, and teacher is singular, the verb is singular. There are times when it can be difficult to determine whether a noun is singular or plural. The following are plural nouns, which require a plural verb when used as the subject of a sentence:
When the words scissors, pliers, pants, or trousers are preceded by the words pair of, the subject of the sentence is pair, which is singular. Other singular nouns include:
With these guidelines in mind, take a look at the following examples:
Pliers are required for this project.
His striped pants were torn.
That pair of pants is ripped.
Mathematics is his favorite subject.
Collective nouns can be tricky sometimes, too. When we think of collective nouns as a group, they are singular, and usually this is the case. However, on the occasion that collective nouns are thought of as individuals, they are plural. Consider the following sentences using the collective noun dozen:
A dozen cookies is plenty for the meeting.
A dozen people are expected to attend.
We usually think of a dozen cookies as a group, so in the first sentence, the collective noun is singular. However, we usually think of people as individuals, so the collective noun is plural. Collective nouns to watch out for include:
These nouns can be made plural, such as classes, families, or groups, and would use plural verbs, as follows:
Our family lives in Portland.
Three families live on our street.
Think about what we've reviewed regarding subject-verb agreement, and try answering the following question.
Which correction should be made to the following sentence?
During halftime, the marching band always play and the drill team performs.
- insert neither after halftime
- replace marching with symphonic
- replace play with plays
- replace team with teams
- replace performs with perform
Band is a collective noun, meaning it is singular and needs a singular verb. Notice that team is also a collective noun and needs a singular verb, performs.
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