by Owen Fourie
~ Part Three ~
A singular subject takes a singular verb; a plural subject takes a plural verb. In the previous post we considered some confusing areas in subject-verb agreement. This was done in the form of pairs of examples. In the conclusion to this short series, we’ll continue with these examples. See again if you know which one in a group is correct.
The rule for either … or and neither … nor
- Either the surgeon or the butcher is hunting for deer.
- Either the geese or the ducks are for sale.
- Neither the dentists nor the optician is pleased about the news.
- Neither the donkey nor the horses are eating the hay.
In #1, the noun on either side of or is singular, so a singular verb is required.
In #2, the noun on either side of or is plural, so a plural verb is used.
In #3, the noun before nor is plural while the noun after nor is singular. In this case, the noun closer to the verb determines the number of the verb, so a singular verb is being used here.
In #4, the noun before nor is singular while the noun after nor is plural. Since the noun closer to the verb determines the number of the verb, a plural verb is being used in this instance.
Each of these examples is correct. The rule for either … or and neither … nor really amounts to this: The noun immediately preceding the verb determines the number of the verb.
- The mayoress, together with the town councilors, are attending the charity ball.
- The mayoress, together with the town councilors, is attending the charity ball.
- The student, as well as the teacher, play the violin.
- The student, as well as the teacher, plays the violin.
Parenthetical expressions are set off by commas and should be ignored for the purpose of determining subject-verb agreement. Some of these expressions are introduced with words such as together with, as well as, along with, other than, no less than, in addition to, including, accompanied by, not to mention. In the above examples, #2 and #4 are correct.
Nouns that appear to be plural: used in a singular sense
- German measles are everywhere in the French village.
- German measles is everywhere in the French village.
- Gymnastics is grueling.
- Gymnastics are grueling.
- Mathematics are more grueling than gymnastics.
- Mathematics is more grueling than gymnastics.
Some nouns may have the appearance of being plural, but they are used in a singular sense. The correct sentences above are #2, #3, and #6.
Nouns that appear to be plural: used in a singular or plural sense
- The statistics of the report are not agreeing with your conclusions.
- Statistics is an interesting course.
- The economics of the situation demand a thorough investigation.
- Economics is my favorite subject.
Some nouns with the appearance of being plural will take either a singular or a plural verb depending on what is being stated. All the above examples for statistics and economics reflect correct usage.
Greek and Latin plurals
- The criteria is being discussed.
- The criteria are being discussed.
- The data reveal a preference for more dangerous pastimes.
- The data reveals a preference for more dangerous pastimes.
- The phenomena being observed by astronomers is exciting.
- The phenomena being observed by astronomers are exciting.
The plural forms of words that have come to us from Greek and Latin require the use of plural verbs. In the above sentences for criteria, data, and phenomena (all plural forms), #2, #3, and #6 are correct. This completes our study of subject-verb agreement.
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