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!

Business Writing Tip #195—Subject-Verb Agreement

subject-verb agreementOne thing most people know about English is that the verbs need to agree with the subjects. Agreement is the grammatical match between words and phrases.

One of the main forms of agreement is subject-verb agreement and making sure your subjects and verbs agree will help you create a strong, professional impression with your business writing.

Subjects can be either singular or plural, and the verbs must agree in number with the subject.

That is, a singular subject goes together with a singular verb form, and a plural subject belongs with a plural verb form.

Regular Verbs

The pattern for regular verbs is predictable. The third person singular (he, she, it) adds an ‘s’ to the verb. Other forms do not end in ‘s’.

  Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I decide. We decide.
Second Person You decide. You decide.
Third Person He/She/It decides. They decide.

 

When it comes to spelling there is one thing you need to remember.

If the verb ends in –sh, -z, -ch or –s you need to add –es, rather than just –s.

For example:

  • I finish, she finishes.
  • You watch, he watches.
  • I fix the photocopier. The technician fixes the photocopier.

Irregular Verbs

English has many irregular verbs. Some of the most common are be, have and do.

 

Be Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I am. We are.
Second Person You are. You are.
Third Person He/She/It is. They are.

 

Have Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I have. We have.
Second Person You have. You have.
Third Person He/She/It has. They have.

 

Do Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I do. We do.
Second Person You do. You do.
Third Person He/She/It does. They do.

In the next post we will look at some of the common reasons errors occur.

Happy writing.

 

Business Writing Tip #58—Building Sentences: Subjects

Today I thought we’d start a tour of how sentences are made up. There are three essential elements in a sentence, the building blocks of a sentence:building blocks 1

  1. The subject or subjects,
  2. A verb or verbs, and
  3. Punctuation.

So a sentence can be as simple as:

  • Fred swims.

Today we’ll focus on subjects.

The subject of the sentence is the actor, and usually it is near the beginning of a sentence.

To find the subject ask yourself the question, “Who or what is this sentence about?”

  • Samuel wrote the report.

In this sentence when you ask who or what it’s about, the answer is “Samuel”. “Samuel” is the subject of the sentence.

The subjects of sentences are often nouns (words that name), but not always.

They can be pronouns (words that take the place of nouns).

  • She finishes work at 6 pm each day.

They can also be gerunds. Gerunds are the “–ing” form of the verb used as a noun. They usually represent physical or mental activities. “

Let’s take the verb “write”. It has an –ing form which we use often to indicate an action is continuing.

  • Christine is writing.

But we can use “writing” as a noun (a gerund).

  • Writing can be great fun if you like playing around with words.

When I ask who or what this sentence is about, it’s about “writing” – so “writing” is the subject.

Here are some more examples of gerunds:

  • Running up hills can be hard work.
  • Jumping over tall buildings is something only Superman seems able to manage.
  • Swimming in the sea in rough weather isn’t a good idea.
  • Thinking critically is good exercise for your brain.
  • Feeling bad about what you did doesn’t change anything.

We can also use the “to” form of a verb, the infinitive form, as the subject of a sentence.

  • To drive through peak hour traffic in Dubai can be terrifying.

The final type of word we can use as a subject is something called the “understood” subject. This is when the subject is not stated. Take a look at this sentence:

  • Please finish the report by 3 pm tomorrow.

The “understood” subject is you.