Agreement in Sentences Help (page 2)
Subjects and verbs must always be compatible in number and person. A singular subject—referring to only one person, place, or thing—must be coupled with a singular verb. Likewise, plural subjects—referring to more than one—need a plural verb.
Notice the endings of the singular and the plural verbs. Unlike nouns, third-person singular verbs end in -s, while the plural verbs do not.
Verbs move sentences along. We are able to tell when events happen simply by noting the verb tense in a sentence. Because many verbs are easily recognizable, they come across as exceptionally harsh to our ears if used improperly. This is especially true of the most widely used verb form in the English language, be. The following table shows how be is conjugated according to number, form, and person (singular/plural, first/second/third person).
It is interesting to note that the conjugated forms of be don't include the word be itself. For reference, the nonparticipial forms of be are as follows: am, is, are, was, were.
That being said, it is not unusual to hear be used improperly as a verb in casual language. Remember this rule: Be never follows a subject in a sentence without a helping verb.
- I be taking the mail to the post office this morning.
- They be cooking dinner, and we be washing the dishes.
- I am taking the mail to the post office this morning.
- They are cooking dinner, and we are washing the dishes.
Tip: Do not let long sentences confuse you. Verbs do not have to agree with words that come between the subject and verb. "Jamal, as well as his best friends Alec and Carlos, is auditioning for 'American Idol'." The singular subject, Jamal, takes a singular verb, is.
Compound Subjects and Verbs
When two or more subjects share the same verb, you have what is called a compound subject. The conjunctions and, or, or nor are used to connect compound subjects.
Pink and black are traditional ballet colors.
When and is used, the subjects are looked at as equals, so the verb is plural. An exception to this rule is when the subjects are thought of as a single unit, like spaghetti and meatballs or macaroni and cheese.
When singular subjects are joined by or or nor, each subject is considered a separate unit, so the verb is singular. When plural subjects are joined by or or nor, the verb is plural, since each of the subjects is plural.
- Green or yellow squash is used in this recipe.
- Neither the chair nor the table has any scratches.
- Coaches or managers attend the monthly team meetings.
- Neither parents nor spectators have any interest in attending.
Tip: In a sentence with a singular and a plural subject, it may be hard to decide whether to use a singular or a plural verb. But the solution is simple: Whichever subject is mentioned last in the sentence, whether singular or plural, determines the correct verb to use:
Either pancakes or cereal is available for breakfast today.
Either cereal or pancakes are available for breakfast today.
Pronoun Subjects and Verbs
Indefinite pronouns, such as everyone, both, few, and all, are general when referring to people, places, or things. Because we are concerned with subjects and verbs agreeing in number, it is easy to tell if most indefinite pronouns are singular or plural, with only a handful of exceptions.
As with any other pronoun, a singular indefinite pronoun takes a singular verb, and a plural one takes a plural verb. When using pronouns that can be both singular and plural, you need to look at the noun being referred to by the indefinite pronoun to help you determine which verb to use:
- Most of these peaches are bruised.
- Most of his room is clean.
Antecedents and Pronouns
Here are some pronouns you need to know.
Without pronouns, communicating would be very contrived because of the necessary repetition of nouns …
Lillian and Gina went to Florida for a long weekend. Lillian and Gina planned to meet up with Lillian and Gina's old friends Stephanie and Jean. Lillian, Gina, Stephanie, and Jean decided Lillian, Gina, Stephanie, and Jean would have lunch at Lillian, Gina, Stephanie, and Jean's old watering hole. Lillian, Gina, Stephanie, and Jean had a great time and Lillian, Gina, Stephanie, and Jean decided to have lunch there with Lillian, Gina, Stephanie, and Jean again soon.
Luckily, pronouns can take the place of nouns and make a story less boring. The antecedent is the word the pronoun replaces.
Adel liked the new headphones she bought this afternoon.
The pronoun she refers to Adel, so Adel is the antecedent. Because Adel is one girl, she is used instead of they. There must be agreement of gender, number, and person between an antecedent and its pronoun.
Let's see why that is not only important, but necessary:
- Mrs. Parker shopped for a pair of strappy sandals in the perfect shade of chartreuse green and yellow for his new sundress.
It is obvious that Mrs. Parker is a female, so the only appropriate possessive pronoun to agree would be her, not his as in the sentence. Try another:
- Rosemarie yawned and put their feet up to take his afternoon nap.
Rosemarie is tired and wants to take a nap, but the sentence has her putting someone else's feet up and, unfortunately, taking someone else's nap for him.
When a sentence has multiple subjects, pronoun ambiguity sets in for listeners or readers. With too many he's, she's, and they's, the message may become garbled, and the audience gets lost.
Kris told Nancy that Fran ran into Hali after she left class, and over coffee, she spilled the beans that she heard her boyfriend say that he thought she was boring.
That is confusing. Who left class? Hali, Fran, or Kris? Who spilled the beans? Kris? Perhaps Fran or Nancy? And whose boyfriend thinks she's boring?
Tip: A sentence may contain more than one noun/pronoun—verb pair. Make sure that each pair agrees in number.
Exercises for this concept can be found at Agreement in Sentences Practice.
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