What are some common subject-verb agreement errors?

This is the third of four lessons about Subject-Verb Agreement. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Discuss how subject-verb agreement errors can be avoided

– Introduce six common subject-verb agreement errors

– Provide examples of each error type to guide the learner

Lesson 3

Now that you understand the basic rules of subject-verb agreement, it’s important that you’re also able to correct your own errors. Everybody makes mistakes, and no  teacher will expect you to be perfect every time. However, you will be expected to recognise when an error has been made and correct it before final submission. Before we highlight some of the most common errors, there is a simple test that you can do for most subject-verb agreement issues, which is as follows:

Subject-Verb Agreement 3.1 Test
Subject-Verb Agreement 3.2 Test

By trying to correctly replace any subject with either the singular pronoun ‘it’ or plural ‘they’, you should be able to then determine whether the agreeing verb should also be singular or plural. While these simple tests work in most instances, the following six common errors may still provide you with difficulties. 

 

1. Nouns Ending in ‘S’

Some subjects may look plural at first glance but are in fact singular and so require a singular verb. This is because the English language uses ‘s’ to pluralise, and so nouns such as ‘linguistics’ (although ending in ‘s’) require a singular verb:

Subject-Verb Agreement 3.3 Nouns Ending 'S'

2. Indefinite Pronouns as Subjects

Indefinite pronouns can be tricky because their status as being singular or plural subjects may change depending on what they refer to. The pronoun ‘all’ for instance can be singular in the sentence ‘all (of the cards) are missing’ or plural in the sentence ‘all (of the juice) has gone’, while ‘none’ may be either depending on the preference of the speaker. Such variation is categorised in the following table:

Subject-Verb Agreement 3.4 Indefinite Pronouns as Subjects

3. Two Subjects Connected with ‘And’

If you remember the rule that a verb should be plural when connecting two or more subjects with the conjunction ‘and’, you should be generally successful:

Subject-Verb Agreement 3.5 Two Subjects Connected with And

However, watch out for compound nouns. Such nouns as in the following example will be singular because they act as one subject (and can be replaced by ‘it’):

Subject-Verb Agreement 3.6 Two Subjects Connected with And

4. Connecting Two Singular Subjects

Unlike with ‘and’, when connecting two singular subjects with the following four words, you should use a singular verb

Subject-Verb Agreement 3.7 Connecting Two Singular Subjects

5. Connecting a Plural and Singular Subject

When the words ‘either/or’ and ‘neither/nor’ from the previous example are used to connect subjects of mixed number, the verb will agree with whichever subject it is closest to. For example, in the following sentences, we can see the same subject pairs showing different subject-verb agreement when reversed:

Subject-Verb Agreement 3.8 Connecting a Singular and Plural Subject

6. Embedded Prepositional Phrases

When subjects contain embedded prepositional phrases within their structure, some readers and speakers can get a little confused. This is especially true when using the preposition ‘of’. In the following example, it is the noun phrase ‘that bunch’ preceding the prepositional phrase ‘of spring flowers’ that the verb will be required to agree with:

Subject-Verb Agreement 3.9 Embedded Prepositional Phrases

If you manage to recognise and fix these six common errors, then your subject-verb agreement should be correct most of the time. However, as is outlined in Lesson 4, there are still some additional errors that shouldn’t be ignored. 

3 of 4 Lessons Completed

Materials

Once you’ve completed all four lessons about subject-verb agreement, you might also wish to download our beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets to test your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

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