June 20, 2011

14 ways to prevent subject-verb agreement errors

Occasionally, we notice that our students commit mistakes when it comes to subject-verb agreement during their IELTS preparation or review. When that happens, we always remind them of the rules and the pointers. A singular subject requires a singular verb. On the other hand, a plural subject requires a plural verb.

Claire (singular subject) checks (singular verb) her Facebook account every day.

The boys (plural subject) communicate (plural verb) through Twitter.

Now we're going to share with you some pointers that you could use when you check your work. Here they are:

1. Avoid making the verb agree with words that come after it.

INCORRECT: A fond memory are the visits we made to grandma and grandpa.

CORRECT: A fond memory (singular subject) is (singular verb) the visits we made to grandma and grandpa

2. Be careful of sentences where the subject appears at the end of the sentence.

INCORRECT: Staying at Suite 1701 was our relatives.

CORRECT: Staying at Suite 1701 were (plural verb) our relatives (plural subject).

3. The verb should agree with its subject even if there are plural words that come between them.

INCORRECT: The common issue of these cases are the legality of his dismissal.

CORRECT: The common issue (singular subject) of these cases is (singular verb) the legality of his dismissal.

4. The verb should agree with its subject even if the phrases "as well as," "together with," "in addition to," and similar others, come between them.

INCORRECT: Jollibee, together with McDonalds, are popular in the Philippines.

CORRECT: Jollibee (singular subject), together with McDonalds, is (singular verb) popular in the Philippines.

5. The verb should agree with its subject even if a phrase starting with the word "not" comes between them.

INCORRECT: Ramon, not the other band members, are going to the party.

CORRECT: Ramon (singular subject), not the other band members, is (singular verb) going to the party.

6. Noun phrases that talk about a unit require singular verbs.

EXAMPLE: The rack and pinion is (singular) a pair of gears which convert rotational motion into linear motion. It is commonly found in the steering mechanism of cars or other wheeled, steered vehicles.

7. Mathematical phrases require singular verbs.

EXAMPLE: Fifteen and fifteen is thirty.

8. Note your use of collective nouns. If you are referring to the group as a whole, then it requires a singular verb. If, on the other hand, you are referring to the individuals comprising the said group, then use a plural verb.

SINGULAR: Patrick's family is respected in the community. ("Family" here is referred to as a group.)

PLURAL: Patrick's family are doctors.

9. Similarly, note your use of nouns that express amounts.

SINGULAR: Eight hours is the recommended length of time to sleep. ("Eight hours" is referred to as a unit.)

PLURAL: Eight hours for two consecutive weeks were required to finish the course.

10. Indefinite pronouns like someone, somebody, everyone, etc. are considered as singular and thus require a singular verb.

EXAMPLE: Everyone is (singular) invited to my birthday party.

11. Either/or and Neither/nor require singular verbs.

EXAMPLE: Either the Evolution or the Impreza is (singular) at the parking lot.

12. Note that some nouns appear plural. However, they are actually singular.

EXAMPLE: Gymnastics is (singular) a sport I would like to watch.

13. Some nouns ending in "-ics" can be singular or plural.

SINGULAR: Economics is a subject that he wants to teach.

PLURAL: The economics of the situation involve a reduction of unnecessary spending.

14. Finally, note the plural forms of foreign words.

EXAMPLE: The syllabi (plural of syllabus) have been submitted two weeks ago.

There you have it. Feel free to use the tips and pointers whenever you practice or review for your IELTS writing and speaking.

We hope that you liked our tips for today. Cheers! :)