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
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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