by Owen Fourie
~ Part Four ~
The Prepositional-Phrase Problem
Many students find difficulty in using the correct number of the verb, singular or plural, when there is a prepositional phrase preceding the verb.
Remember that a prepositional phrase consists of a preposition followed by its object:
- in the car;
- after the rain;
- over the bridge.
The following examples will illustrate the problem:
- The new collection of books is/are ready for cataloging.
- A chance of showers exists/exist mainly in the morning.
- Each one of the students was/were ready to write a report.
- Recent events in my life has/have left me bewildered.
- An ancient Hall of Records resides/reside near this town.
- The items at the auction was/were of great value.
- The theories of the professor is/are interesting.
The rule is that subject and verb must agree in number: a singular subject takes a singular verb; a plural subject takes a plural verb.
The problem is that the object of the preposition is often mistaken for the subject of the sentence. In the above examples, this would mean the following selection:
- books are
- showers exist
- students were
- life has
- Records reside
- auction was
- professor is
When a prepositional phrase precedes the verb in a sentence, you should ignore it while determining whether the verb should be singular or plural. Focus, instead, on the subject and be guided by its number. In the above examples, this would mean the following selection:
- collection is
- chance exists
- one was
- events have
- Hall resides
- items were
- theories are
This means that our examples are correctly stated as below:
- The new collection of books is ready for cataloging.
- A chance of showers exists mainly in the morning.
- Each one of the students was ready to write a report.
- Recent events in my life have left me bewildered.
- An ancient Hall of Records resides near this town.
- The items at the auction were of great value.
- The theories of the professor are interesting.
The correct choice of verb is, perhaps, more obvious in instances where the subject is plural and the object of the preposition is singular (as in 4, 6, and 7), but I have seen wrong choices here too.
If you disregard the prepositional phrase preceding the verb, you will more easily choose the correct verb.
Please note that when the subject is an indefinite pronoun (like most, or all, or any) that can be either singular or plural, the number of the object of a preposition before the verb will determine the number of the verb. This exception is explained in Subject-Verb Agreement II.
How familiar are you with the problem discussed here? Are there any points that puzzle you about the solution? If so, ask for clarification here. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.
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