Agreement- A Matter of Compatibility: Grammar Review Study Guide (page 2)

Updated on Aug 25, 2011

The Verb Form To Be

Most verbs are easy to recognize and, when used improperly, are exceptionally harsh on the ears and eyes. It is especially true of the most widely used verb in the English language: words formed from the verb to be (which often don't look anything like be, oddly enough, except being and been). For instance:

Do not use the verb be after a subject.

Incorrect: I be going to the school dance. They be going, too.
  The teacher be asking us to read.
Correct: I am going to the school dance. They are going, too.
  The teacher is asking us to read.

Prepositional Phrases

Sometimes, the subject of the sentence is followed by a prepositional phrase (phrases that start with prepositions such as of, at, between, on, under, beside, etc.). If you're not careful, these phrases can confuse you into picking the wrong verb form to agree with the subject.

When a subject is followed by a prepositional phrase, ignore that phrase and look only at the subject to determine the correct verb. For instance:

    The box of staples (was, were) in the cabinet.

The plural word staples may lead you to choose the plural verb were, but you must ignore the phrase of staples because box, not staples, is the subject. Therefore, the sentence would read as follows.

The box [singular subject] was [singular verb] in the cabinet.

Let's look at another one.

    The clothes in the hamper (are, is) dirty.

Again, ignore the prepositional phrase in the hamper, and focus on the subject, clothes. Then, the sentence should read as follows.

    The clothes [plural subject] are [plural verb] dirty.

Other prepositional phrases—such as along with, as well as, including, and in addition to—can also throw you off. For instance:

      Daniel, along with Stephen and Anthony, (are, is) a member of the school marching band.
      Vegetables, in addition to fruit, (is, are) a healthy choice for a snack.

If you disregard the phrases along with Stephen and Anthony and in addition to fruit, you are able to focus better on the subjects Daniel and vegetables and choose the correct verb to agree with them.

      Daniel [singular subject], , is [singular verb] a member of the school marching band.
      Vegetables [plural subject], , are [plural verb] a healthy choice for a snack.

Prepositional phrases with plurals in them can create subject agreement havoc, too. Take a look at the following.

      Every one of these cards (are, is) ruined because of the sticky spill.
      The subject of these four research reports (is, are) the Alaskan wilderness.

When you disregard the prepositional phrases of these cards and of these four research reports to find the subject of each sentence, the sentences should read as follows.

      Every one [singular subject] is ruined [singular verb] because of the sticky spill.
      The subject [singular subject] is [singular subject] the Alaskan wilderness.

Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns take the place of nouns with words like everyone, both, few, and all. Determining whether these words are singular or plural is sometimes easy.

    Several from the group are walking to the movie, while a few others are staying behind to chat.

The plural verb are agrees with the plural subjects several and few.

      Each of the students is encouraged to share a little bit about himor herself.
      Anyone was allowed to volunteer to share first.

The singular verb is agrees with the singular subjects each and anyone.

When you encounter the indefinite pronouns all, more, none, most, any, and some before a prepositional phrase, don't ignore the phrase. Instead, use the noun at the end of the prepositional phrase, called the object of the preposition (OOP), to help you decide whether to use a singular or plural verb. For instance:

    Some of the cars [OOP] are driving slowly.

The noun cars following the pronoun some is plural, so a plural verb is needed.

    Some of the road [OOP] is slippery.

The noun road following the pronoun some is singular, so a singular verb is needed.

    Most of the desserts [OOP] are delicious.

The noun desserts following the pronoun most is plural, so a plural verb is required.

    Most of the pie [OOP] is frozen.

The noun pie following the pronoun most is singular, so a singular verb is needed.

Inside Track

This is the only time that you should break the "ignore the prepositional phrase" rule stated earlier and not ignore it in the sentence. The OOP will determine what kind of verb will follow.

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are words that name groups of people, animals, and objects as a single unit, such as team or dozen.

A collective noun can take on either a singular or a plural form, depending on how it is used in the sentence. For instance:

Singular: The soccer team places its logo on the banner.
  The team, as a single unit, has a logo.
Plural: The soccer team place trophies in the display case.
  The team's members have trophies to display and place them in the case.

Let's look at another one.

Singular: A dozen roses is such a thoughtful gift.
  The roses are purchased by the dozen, as a single unit.
Plural: A dozen friends are coming over tonight.
  Friends don't come by the dozen, like roses. They come as individuals.
Fuel For Thought

The term the number is a singular collective noun, where a number is the plural form.

Singular: The number of cats in the shelter has grown since September.
  One by one, the number of cats in the shelter increased since September.
Plural: A number of cats were brought to the shelter last night.
  Several cats were brought to the shelter last night.

Words Expressing Measure

Expressions of measure include words like dollars, cents, tons, pounds, ounces, grams, days, weeks, months, years, gallons, quarts, pints, cups, pieces, slices, cartons, etc. These words denote a quantity of money, weight, time, volume, food, and fractions.

Determine whether the words are referring to a single unit or to separate items, to determine what type of verb is required.

Words falling into this category can often trick you because they look plural, even though they imply a single unit, which makes them singular.

    Two gallons of milk is all that is left in the refrigerator.

The gallons are considered a single unit and require a singular verb.

    Two one-gallon containers of milk are all that is left in the refrigerator.

This time, the milk is referred to as separate units, containers, so you would use a plural verb to complete the sentence.

    Nine dollars is a lot of money for a toll.

Again, the nine dollars are being lumped together as a single unit, so you would use a singular verb.

    Five one-dollar bills are all I have in my pocket.

Here, the dollars are separated into smaller units, bills, so the verb is plural.

Let's try one more.

Singular: Nine hours of sleep is ideal for teens.
Plural: Ideally, nine hours of sleep are needed for teens.
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