Agreement Between Subject and Verb Help (page 3)
Introduction to Subject Verb Agreement
In any list of common errors in English, lack of agreement between subject and verb ranks high. For example:
The berries in my cereal tastes so sweet.
To correct an agreement error, you need to identify both the subject and the verb. Whenever possible, start by identifying the verb. In the example sentence, the verb is tastes. Then you can ask, what tastes? The berries tastes. Oops! You just found the error. Berries is a plural subject and the verb must agree with it. Decide which is correct:
- Berries tastes.
- Berries taste.
Of course it is the latter.
In addition, just ahead, you will discover how the times (tenses) of verbs must be consistent and logical as verbs follow one another. What's wrong with the following?
Yesterday, I reprimanded the children when they run into the street.
Obviously, yesterday and reprimanded indicate past time, but run is in the present time. Change run to the past time—ran:
Yesterday, I reprimanded the children when they ran into the street.
Subject Verb Agreement Practice and Answers
In the following paragraphs, check the tenses of all the verbs for consistency of time. Find the one verb in each paragraph that needs to be corrected.
Children are not always happy to play alone. Does that mean that parents have to devote all their time to playing with their children? No, it didn't. Certain techniques work to encourage children to play on their own.
In 1999, The Academy of Pediatrics provided some guidelines for children and TV. They suggest that children under two years old should not watch TV. They advised that even older children should not watch TV before bedtime. Instead, they said that parents should read to children, or children might read to themselves and with their parents.
1. No, it doesn't. 2. They suggested…
Verb Tense Practice and Answers
In each of the following sentences, find the verb (action word). Label each verb present, past, or future. The first one is done for you.
- A consumer quickly learns that "living green" is not easy.
- I will avoid plastic packaging as much as possible. __________
- My family turned off the lights all over the house. __________
- Toby decided to cycle to work. __________
- Marilyn's child uses much less hand towels than my child does. __________
- He eats lunch at the same time every day. __________
- Our three children will play together tomorrow. __________
- They ate lunch in the park. __________
- I collected shells on the beach. __________
- I keep a scrapbook for each child. __________
- You will ask yourself some important questions before the election. __________
- The law student completed his final exam. __________
- David played the guitar in the band Neville Blues. __________
- Aidan will start school next year. __________
- The car stops at every yellow light. __________
1. learns/present 2. will avoid/future 3. turned off/past 4. decided/past 5. uses/present 6. eats/present 7. will play/future 8. ate/past 9. collected/past 10. keep/present 11. will ask/future 12. completed/past 13. played/past 14. will start/future 15. stops/present
Consistent Verb Tense in Paragraphs
The verb tenses in the previous written practice section were likely easy to determine. You have just made decisions about tense in single sentences, and you can do this for verbs in paragraphs, too. There is one additional consideration: That is, is the tense consistent throughout the paragraph? Read the following paragraph, and decide if the writer was consistent.
When I decide to ask for a raise at work, I do some homework first. First, I consult the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Department of Labor to check recent salaries in my field. Then I gather my recent performance evaluations, and I reread them carefully to recall the list of my accomplishments. However, I still need to list accomplishments that have accrued since that evaluation. I always list higher sales, the number of sales calls, and the number of those calls that result in sales.
You probably realized that the writer was consistent in this paragraph. Some of the present tense verbs are decide, do, consult, gather, reread, and need. Now read this paragraph with the same task in mind. Is the tense consistent?
Your company may not be in a position to offer you a raise. If the company was laying people off, it is probably not a good idea to ask for a raise at this time. Asking for a substantial raise can only make you seem unrealistic and untouched by what is going on around you. Instead, ask for something other than money, such as flex time, or a better office, or new equipment.
Here are some verbs: offer, was laying off, ask. Are they all in the same tense? Clearly, the writer meant to write in the present tense, but one verb does not conform: was laying off indicates the past; it should be is laying off.
Consistent Verb Tense Practice and Answers
In the following paragraph, choose the correct verb for each sentence. The first one (opens) is provided for you and sets the tense, or time, in the present.
Every morning Maria opens the office and immediately (checks/checked) the fax machine for messages. It seems that each day more and more unsolicited faxes (will appear/appear). Now Maria (knows/knew) she will have to find a way to unlist the fax number.
1. checks 2. appear 3. knows
Subject and Verb Agreement in Number
As you read in the introduction to this section, a verb changes depending on whether the subject of the sentence is singular or plural. Look at the following examples:
- The new computer saves me so much time.
- The new computers save us so much time.
In the first sentence, the subject is computer and it is singular—there is only one. In the second sentence, the subject is computers and it is plural, meaning there is more than one. A singular noun, such as one computer, does not have an s; but a plural noun, such as two or more computers, uses the s to show there is more than one. Now look at the verb. One computer saves me so much time. The verb takes an s to accommodate a singular subject. Obviously, verbs don't work according to the same rules as nouns. With a verb, an added s means that it is singular, not plural.
One more complication: sometimes two words are used to form a plural subject:
- A desk and a chair (plural subject) stand (plural verb—no s) in the corner of the room. Two things stand in the room.
- A desk stands in the corner of the room. One thing stands in the room.
Once again, a plural subject is followed by a verb with no s. A singular subject is followed by a verb with an s ending.
Let's look at more examples:
- Food and exercise (plural subject) comprise (plural verb—no s) an important part in any weight-loss program.
- The two candidates (plural subject) address (plural verb—no s) the crowd.
- My son and daughter (plural subject) live (plural verb—no s) on their own now.
- Two cars (plural subject) vie (plural verb—no s) for that spot each morning.
Lack of agreement between subject and verb (e.g., The contest winners was there to receive their awards.) is one of the errors most often committed by speakers and writers. We frequently hear these errors as well as see them in writing. Frequency, however, does not give anyone a pass
Let's go back to Joe Hidalgo's e-mail history. He has some work to do on subject-verb agreement.
From: Joe Hidalgo
To: Harry Malcolm
Subject: New office designs
I'm attaching the two designs you liked most. Your patience and consideration in waiting for their completion is very much appreciated. Carlos, Mark, and I, who have been assigned to this project, feels honored to have been chosen to work on this inquiry. Please feel free to ask us about any item that is unclear to you.
We look forward to working with you.
Did you see the subject-verb agreement errors in the e-mail? They occurred in the second and third sentences. Here are simple changes to correct the errors. Sentence 2 correction: Your patience and consideration… are very much appreciated.
The subject (patience and consideration) is plural. You cannot use the singular is with a plural subject; you can use the plural form are. Sentence 3 correction: Carlos, Mark, and I, who have been assigned to this project, feel… inquiry. The subject (Carlos, Mark, and I) is plural. You cannot use the singular feels with a plural subject. You can use the plural form feel.
Subject and Verb Agreement in Number Practice and Answers
For each of the following sentences, see if there is agreement in number between the subject and verb. Correct any errors in agreement.
- House prices changes every month.
- The Blake family go camping every summer.
- The painter and his hired men takes time to do a very neat job.
- Interferences such as a phone call or visitor keeps me from finishing my work.
- My friend, with his children in tow, take a one-mile walk each morning.
- An extraordinary new development in manufacturing clothes give us bamboo fiber.
- Bamboo fiber rate very high not only as eco-friendly but for being revolutionary for many reasons.
- Some of the advantages of bamboo fabric includes its strength and softness.
- Bamboo fabric also pay great dividends to the environment.
- As it grows, bamboo plants gives us clean air, consumes carbon dioxide, and returns oxygen to the environment.
1. prices change 2. family goes 3. men take 4. interferences keep 5. friend takes 6. development gives 7. fiber rates 8. some include 9. fabric pays 10. plants give
Determining Agreement with Prepositional Phrases
When you speak or write a simple sentence, it's easy to match the correct verb to the subject:
A bully threatens the child.
In the preceding sentence, the verb is clear: threatens. Who did the threatening? The bully, or subject, did the threatening. A singular verb (threatens) agrees with a singular subject (bully). What happens when you add prepositional phrases, or interrupting words? The sentence becomes more complicated, and unless you are very observant, agreement is easily lost.
- A bully who is in the same classes threaten the child.
- A bully who is in the same classes threatens the child.
Some writers would be fooled by the closest word to the verb, that is, classes. Classes is plural, so the verb must be plural: threaten, right? No, you need to find the subject. Is the word classes the subject? Do they threaten the child? No, it's the bully (singular subject) who threatens the child.
Find the subject and the verb in the following example. Does the verb agree with the subject in number?
A woman in workout clothes walk into the gym.
What is the verb? Walk is the verb. Who walks: Does the woman walk? Or do the clothes walk? Of course, the woman walks. Woman is the singular subject. That fact makes the original sentence incorrect. The following is the correct sentence:
A woman in workout clothes walks into the gym.
When you are unsure if the verb should be singular or plural, use the following hint. Forget about all other elements of the sentence and do this: find the verb and then ask yourself who or what does that.
Today, forward-thinking organizations in this country focuses on customer service.
Let's think this through using the preceding hint. What is the verb? Focuses is the singular verb. What focuses? Organizations is the plural subject. Do we have an agreement issue? The answer is yes. The phrase in this country comes between the subject and verb, and since the word country is singular, we fall into the agreement trap.
In the next section, you will learn much more about these prepositional phrases. Until then, just remember to find the verb first and the subject will fall into place.
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