by Owen Fourie
~ Part Two ~
A singular subject takes a singular verb; a plural subject takes a plural verb. That is the rule, which we considered in the first part of this article. We’ll go on now to deal with some confusing areas in subject-verb agreement. Let’s do this in the form of pairs of examples. See if you know which one in a pair is correct.
Plural nouns after the verb
- My concern is the errors you have made.
- My concern are the errors you have made.
If the subject is singular, the verb must be singular. Plural nouns following the verb do not determine the number of the verb, so #1 is correct.
Subject after the verb
- Attending the party was my cousins.
- Attending the party were my cousins.
Here is a case of the subject coming after the verb. The subject, cousins, is plural, so #2 is correct. The trick here is to place the subject before the verb, which will make it easier to decide the correct number of the verb: My cousins were attending the party.
Collective nouns and nouns of amount and number
- The crowd are on their feet and roaring with delight.
- The crowd is on its feet and roaring with delight.
- Three meters is too much to cut off this board.
- Three meters are to be cut off separately, meter by meter.
When you use collective nouns, such as crowd, team, swarm, and school, you have to decide whether you are thinking of the group as a whole (singular) or as the many individuals in the group (plural). In #1, the many individuals in the crowd are what is in view. In #2, it is the crowd as a whole. Both are correct. Be careful of some collective nouns, though. A jury is required to be unanimous in its decision, so it acts as a whole, and you should use the singular verb.
Similarly, for nouns that describe the amount of something in distance, measurement, weight, time, and money, you have to decide whether you are thinking of the amount as a whole or in separate units. In #3 above, three meters is regarded as a whole. In #4, each meter is being taken separately. Both are correct.
Nouns occurring between subject and verb … prepositional phrases
- Each of these posts have information about English usage.
- Each of these posts has information about English usage.
The subject is each, not posts. Since each is singular, #2 is correct. Nouns that come between the subject and the verb do not affect the number of the verb. Often, when you see this happening, you are seeing a prepositional phrase, such as you see here: of these posts. Prepositional phrases occurring between the subject and the verb usually do not influence the number of the verb. There are exceptions, as we’ll see later.
– some are always singular
- Everyone is welcome.
- Everyone are welcome.
Everyone belongs to the family of indefinite pronouns. Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns: “His car” instead of “Tom’s car.” Indefinite pronouns such as anybody, anyone, another, everything, everyone, each, either, little, much, neither, nothing, nobody, somebody, something, someone do not refer to particular persons or things. They are indefinite, and they are always singular. The correct sentence above is #1.
– some are always plural
- Several of my students lives in India; others is living in Hungary.
- Several of my students live in India; others are living in Hungary.
There are several indefinite pronouns that take the plural verb: both, few, many, most, others, several. The correct sentence above is #2.
– some are singular or plural
- Most of the building was destroyed in the fire.
- Most of the building were destroyed in the fire.
- Most of the students are coming to the meeting.
- Most of the students is coming to the meeting.
Some indefinite pronouns can take either the singular or the plural verb. It depends on the information in the rest of the sentence. This is where a prepositional phrase (of the building; of the students) actually does help to determine whether the verb should be singular or plural. In the above examples, #1 is correct: building is singular; and #3 is correct: students is plural. Other pronouns like most are all, any, enough, more, none, some, and who.
There are a few more areas of confusion in subject-verb agreement, and we’ll consider these in the concluding part of this series in the next post.
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