English Test: Mastering Subject-Verb Agreement

As a copy editor, one of the most common errors I come across is subject-verb agreement. It may seem like a simple concept, but it can be a tricky one to master. The basic rule of subject-verb agreement is that singular subjects require singular verbs, and plural subjects require plural verbs. However, there are a few exceptions and complexities that can make it challenging. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at subject-verb agreement and how to get it right.

Singular and Plural Subjects

Let’s start with the basics. Singular subjects are nouns that represent one person, place, thing, or idea. Examples include “dog,” “chair,” and “happiness.” Plural subjects, on the other hand, represent two or more of these things. Examples include “dogs,” “chairs,” and “happinesses” (although this last one is not very common!).

When it comes to subject-verb agreement, singular subjects require singular verbs, and plural subjects require plural verbs. For example, we say “The dog barks” and “The dogs bark.” The singular subject “dog” takes the singular verb “barks,” while the plural subject “dogs” takes the plural verb “bark.”

Exceptions and Complexities

Now, let’s look at some of the exceptions and complexities of subject-verb agreement.

Collective Nouns: Collective nouns are nouns that represent a group of people or things, such as “team,” “family,” or “committee.” When these nouns are used as a single entity, they take a singular verb. For example, we say “The team is playing well” and “The family is going on vacation.” However, when the members of the group are being emphasized, a plural verb is used. For example, we say “The team are arguing with each other” and “The family are all different.”

Indefinite Pronouns: Indefinite pronouns are pronouns that don’t refer to a specific person or thing, such as “someone,” “anybody,” or “everyone.” When these pronouns are used as the subject of a sentence, they take a singular verb. For example, we say “Someone is at the door” and “Everybody loves ice cream.”

Compound Subjects: Compound subjects are two or more subjects that are joined by “and.” When the subjects are both singular, they take a singular verb. For example, we say “The cat and the dog is sleeping” (not “are sleeping”). However, when the subjects are both plural, or when they are different in number, a plural verb is used. For example, we say “The cats and the dogs are playing” and “The cat and the dogs are playing.”

Practice Makes Perfect

The best way to master subject-verb agreement is to practice, practice, practice. Take the time to review your writing and check that your subjects and verbs match in number. If you’re unsure, read your sentence out loud and listen to see if it sounds correct. You can also use grammar checkers and online tools to help you identify errors.

Subject-verb agreement may seem like a minor issue, but it can have a big impact on the clarity and effectiveness of your writing. By taking the time to master this concept, you’ll be able to write with confidence and clarity.