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Agreement- A Matter of Compatibility: Grammar Review Study Guide (page 3)

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Compound Subjects and Verbs

When two or more subjects share the same verb, that sentence has a compound subject. Compound subjects are connected with the conjunctions and, or, or nor.

When the conjunction and is used, the verb will be plural. For instance:

      My sister and brother go to the same college.
      Annabelle, Molly, and Taylor sit by one another in class.
Inside Track

The exception to this rule is when the subjects are thought of as a single unit, even though they are joined by the conjunction and. For instance:

    Spaghetti and meatballs is one of my favorite meals, as is macaroni and cheese.

When singular subjects are joined by the conjunctions or or nor, the verb used will be singular, and when plural subjects are joined by or or nor, the verb used will be plural. For instance:

Singular: A cat or a dog is a good choice for a pet.
  Neither a bear nor a lion makes a good choice for a pet.
Plural: Musicians or dancers may attend the musical arts convention.
  Neither landscapers nor masons would likely be interested in attending.
Fuel For Thought

Oh, no! You have a sentence that uses a singular and a plural subject. What kind of verb do you choose now—singular or plural? The answer is simple: Choose the verb that agrees with the subject you mention last in the sentence (the one closest to the verb):

    Neither fries nor a hot dog is offered for lunch today, only salad.
    Neither a hot dog nor fries are offered for lunch today, only salad.

Agreement Between Antecedents and Pronouns

How important are pronouns? Let's see:

Every now and then, Tom liked to play a round of golf. Tom would bring Tom's golf bag and Tom's cart to the course Tom belonged to, and Tom would often meet with Tom's golf partner, Joe. Tom and Joe would usually warm up at the putting green before Tom and Joe played an 18-hole round. Then, Tom and Joe would grab a bite to eat at the clubhouse. Afterward, Tom and Joe would drive Tom's and Joe's cars back home to Tom's and Joe's families.

This sounds ridiculous, right? Without pronouns, though, this is how you would have to tell about an event.

Pronouns take the place of a noun (the name of a person, place, or thing). An antecedent is the word to which the pronoun refers. For instance:

    Brianna studied all day, and she was too tired to go out with friends.

The pronoun she refers to Brianna in the sentence, making Brianna the antecedent. Because Brianna is one girl, the pronoun she is used, as opposed to, say, he or they. A singular noun must agree in number with its pronoun. Let's look at another one.

    Jimmy and Penny went to the statehouse to visit a friend. Later, they had lunch and walked through the park.

They, a plural pronoun, agrees with the compound subject it is referring to, Jimmy and Penny.

Pronouns must be compatible in gender, number, and person with their antecedents.

    Before going downstairs to dinner, Meredith placed his skirt, pompoms, and flags for cheerleading into the closet.

Needless to say, Meredith is not a male but a female. The pronoun he should agree with the subject. Therefore, she would be the correct pronoun.

    James likes to read, and you is always carrying a book with them.

You, a second-person pronoun, does not work here. The writer is referring to a male, James, so the pronoun needs to be third-person male, or he. Also, the pronoun them is plural, and James can be only one person. The correct pronoun, then, would be him.

The indefinite pronouns anyone, anybody, either, neither, everybody, everyone, everything, no one, nobody, somebody, someone, each, none, and one are considered singular in number and are compatible only with singular pronouns.

Incorrect: Somebody left their phone on the table.
  Somebody is a singular pronoun, and their is plural. Even though this is probably the way most people would say this, it is grammatically incorrect.
Okay: Somebody left his or her phone on the table.
  This is grammatically correct, but a bit stuffy.
Best: Somebody's phone was left on the table.
Fuel For Thought

These days, people try to be more sensitive in their formal writing and public speaking. They try to not generalize by using he when referring to just anybody in general (which had previously been fairly customary).

    If anybody wants seconds, he should just ask for it. There's plenty to go around.

In casual conversation and writing, though, using he to refer to some person in general is generally accepted. You need to decide what is best for your particular situation. So, how would you handle this sentence in a less casual situation? Let's see.

Okay: If anybody wants seconds, he or she should just ask for it.
  There's plenty to go around.

Like the previous example, this is grammatically correct, but awkward.

Better: If you want seconds, just ask for it. There's plenty to go around.

Change the subject to you. It is still neutral in gender and includes everyone in the reading or listening audience.

When using pronouns, you must be cautious that the antecedent-pronoun agreement be clear to avoid confusion on the listener's or reader's part. For instance:

    Michael texted Mark, who IM'ed Jaleel about a video they rented last week. He said it was boring and wanted to go bowling instead.

Who thought the movie was boring: Mark, Jaleel, or Michael?

Let's look at another one.

    Carol and Julie went to the mountains for a weekend of skiing with Doug and Edward. They were having a great time until she got hurt when they collided on the slopes. They are going to try snowboarding next time.

My, that's confusing. Who collided: Carol and Doug? Julie and Doug? Carol and Edward? Julie and Edward? Is they referring to Carol and Julie? Carol and Doug? Carol, Doug, and Julie? Only Julie and Doug? Carol, Doug, and Edward? Maybe Julie, Doug, and Edward? Perhaps just the boys, or just the girls, or just maybe the entire group? Whew! Get the point?

When using here's or there's in a sentence, keep in mind that these contractions mean here is and there is—both contain the singular verb is. Therefore, the subject has to be singular.

It's not uncommon to hear sentences like the following:

      "Here's the pages we did for homework," Carla said to Rebecca.
      "Awesome! There's only a few days left of school before summer break!"

While they may sound okay, they are wrong. They should be said or written like this.

      "Here are the pages we did for homework," Carla said to Rebecca.
      "Awesome! There are only a few days left of school before summer break!"

While they may sound okay, they are wrong. They should be said or written like this.

      "Here are the pages we did for homework," Carla said to Rebecca.
      "Awesome! There are only a few days left of school before summer break!"

Practice exercises for this lesson can be found at  Agreement - A Matter of Compatibility: Grammar Practice Exercises.

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