Business Writing Tip #196 – Common Causes of Subject-Verb Agreement Errors

In the last tip we looked at-subject-verb agreement, and the verb forms you need to use.

But what kinds of errors do people make when it comes to subject-verb agreement? There are four common errors. It is easy to get confused when:

  1. The sentence contains a compound subject

Compound Subjects

When two or more nouns and the coordinating conjunctions and, or and nor form the subject of a sentence, it is referred to as a compound subject. You might have two singular subjects, two plural subjects, or one singular and one plural subject.

The verb form depends on the conjunction.

With And

When you use and, use a plural verb form.

For example:

  • Mohammed and Christine are finalising the report.
  • My phone skills and written communication are excellent.

Hint: If you can use they in place of the compound subject, use the third person plural verb form.

With Or or Nor

If you use or or nor the verb agrees with the subject nearest to the verb.

Two singular subjects:

  • Neither Mohammed nor Christine has time to finalise the report.
  • Either Mohammed or Christine is finalising the report.

Two plural subjects:

  • Neither the team members nor the supervisors want to finalise the report.
  • Either the team members or the supervisors are finalising the report.

Plural and singular subjects:

  • Neither the team members nor Mohammed wants to finalise the report.
  • Either the team members or Mohammed wants to finalise the report.

Singular and plural subjects:

  • Neither Mohammed nor the team members want to finalise the report.
  • Either Mohammed or the team members want to finalise the report.
  • Either the team members or Mohammed wants to finalise the report.
  1. The subject of the sentence is separate from the verb

The sentence might include a phrase or clause that separates the subject and the verb. It might be a prepositional phrase which adds more information, or a dependent clause. The subject and verb still need to agree.

  • The team members with the highest sales figures get the bonuses.
  • The photocopier in the room next to the kitchen is the best one for double-sided, colour copying.
  • The new printer that I bought has the ability to print more quickly than our old printer, and it is cheaper to run.
  • The sales people who build the strongest relationships with their clients are the most successful.
  1. The subject of the sentence is an indefinite pronoun (e.g. anyone, everything)

Most often an indefinite pronoun is the subject of a sentence it will take the singular verb form. But there are exceptions. You need to think about the noun that the pronoun would refer to, and whether that is singular or plural.

Indefinite Pronouns That Always Take a Singular Verb Indefinite Pronouns That Can Take a Singular or a Plural Verb
Anybody All
Anyone Any
Anything None
Each Some
Everybody
Everyone
Everything
Much
Many
Nobody
No one
Nothing
Somebody
Someone
Something

 

  1. The subject of the sentence is a collective noun (e.g. team)

Collective nouns identify more than one person, or thing, and considers them as a singular unit. Therefore you need to use a singular verb.

  • The team is going on a retreat to develop its business plan for the next 12 months.
  1. The subject appears after the verb

This is not so common in written Business English, but you may see it.

For example:

  • There are fifty widgets in the storeroom.
  • Here is the report.

If you have trouble with this in sentences that begin with “There are” or “Here is”, turn the sentence around.

  • Fifty widgets are in the storeroom.
  • The report is here.

Happy writing!

A grammar gift idea …

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A Grammar Gift Idea

I rarely highlight commercial products on my blog but I couldn’t resist. I recently saw these fabulous Grammar Grumbles mugs advertised on the web.

When you’re not sure which word to use, if you mix up your ‘less’ and ‘fewer’, your ‘affects’ and ‘effects’, this set of six mugs will help. Or if you have one of those friends, or colleagues, who literally dies laughing … do them a favour and buy them a useful reminder of the correct words to use. The messages on the mugs are:grammar mugs

  • They’re there for their afternoon tea.
  • I am figuratively dying for a cuppa.
  • The caffeine effect can affect us all.
  • Don’t lose the loose-leaf tea.
  • I’m going to add two sugars too.
  • Less milk and fewer sugar lumps.

And as the website states, “Even if you don’t take grammar as seriously as I do, I still think these mugs are great reminders of the rules.”

Happy writing.

P.S. Please note, this is not a paid ad – I just love the mugs 🙂