Grammar Study Guide

Updated on Sep 28, 2011


Agreement is a very important step in constructing a coherent sentence. There are three basic agreements in a sentence: subject-verb agreement, tense agreement, and antecedent-pronoun agreement.

First, you have to know the definition of a verb:

  • Verb: a word or group of words describing the action or the state of being of a subject.

Subject-Verb Agreement

  • If the subject is singular, the verb is singular; if the subject is plural, the verb is plural → Mrs. Hendrickson feeds the birds every day. Or: The Hendricksons feed the birds every day.
  • Subjects joined by and are plural and receive a plural verb → Jolie and Lara swim together every Thursday.
  • Subjects joined by or or nor adopt the singularity or plurality of the last subject; accordingly, the verb matches it → Either that cat or those dogs have been eating my snacks!

Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

  • Each, either, neither, anybody, anyone, everybody, everyone, no one, nobody, one, somebody, and someone are singular pronouns and receive singular verbs. → Each of us is accountable for his own actions.
  • Both, few, many, and several are plural pronouns and receive plural verbs. → Both of us are accountable.
  • All, any, most, none, and some can be singular or plural pronouns, depending on their use. These pronouns can receive plural or singular verbs.
  • Sometimes a specific member (singular) of a larger group (plural) is the subject of a sentence. In that case, the verb would be singular rather than plural. → One of the chairs is broken. (The group of chairs is actually not broken, only one of them is—so the verb is singular.) → The greatest of all the generals was George Washington. (There were many generals, but the sentence specifically refers to George Washington.)
  • Do not use they, them, or their in place of the pronouns, he, him, or his. → Incorrect: Each student should check their own work. Correct: Each student should check his or her own work.

Tense Agreement

  • Maintain one tense in a complete thought: past tense or present tense. →
  • Incorrect: In the game of hide and seek, Bobby chased Mary and tag her from behind.

    Correct: In the game of hide and seek, Bobby chased Mary and tagged her from behind.

    Incorrect: Dusk had just settled when I see a fawn timidly step onto the beach.

    Correct: Dusk had just settled when I saw a fawn timidly step onto the beach.

Do not use of in place of have.

You cannot avoid pronouns. Pronouns substitute for nouns. Instead of saying, "Because Janie was late, Janie hopped on Janie's moped, and Janie raced to the wedding," you would say, "Because Janie was late, she hopped on her moped, and she raced to the wedding."

In this section, you will clarify ambiguous pronouns and assure pronoun-antecedent agreement, and you will also grapple with contractions. All too often, certain pronouns and contractions are confused. "The file cabinet drawer snagged on an overstuffed folder; it's now stuck just before its halfway point." It's is a contraction meaning it is, while its is a possessive pronoun meaning the drawer's halfway point. The only visual difference between the two is an apostrophe neatly inserted between the t and the s in the contraction.

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