Sunday, June 3, 2007

8. Agreement of Subject and Verb-Part I (Number)

Hey, all you Grammar Bloggers, and I hope you've had a great couple of weeks. It's good to be back after visiting family in Tennessee. It's especially good to get back where Columbus County Southern accents are the norm. There's nothing like home!

Today I've decided to tackle one of the toughest problems we have with our language: SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT. This difficulty stems, for one thing, from special circumstances where rules sometimes appear to be contradictory, and, other times, from one's inability to identify subjects and verbs in a sentence. Sometimes things can get pretty confusing, so I'm only going to present one type of problem at a time. Stay with me.

Ok. So what exactly is SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT? Let's start this way: What does the word AGREEMENT mean? In this context, Webster's says agreement means "being in harmony" or being "consistent,...fitting...similar". Now this is pretty clear, isn't it? When two people come to an agreement about something, they can be said to be in harmony or together in their thinking. In much the same way in our language, subjects and verbs must also agree.

Now keep this in mind as you think through SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT. In English grammar, we learn that every complete sentence has at least one subject and verb. If somehow, along the line, however, you have had trouble with identifying subjects and verbs, then it's not surprising that you may have had agreement trouble. Therefore, let's review subjects and verbs.

The SUBJECT of a sentence is the noun or pronoun the sentence is about. The VERB of a sentence expresses action, a condition, or a state of being.

Example: The courthouse looks very well to be as old as it is. (The sentence is about the courthouse, so "courthouse" is the SUBJECT. The condition of the courthouse "looks" very well..., so "looks" is the VERB.)

Example: Many musicians play bluegrass music. (The sentence is about musicians, so "musicians" is the SUBJECT. The action the musicians do is "play" bluegrass music, so "play" is the VERB.)

Ok. I'm now going to assume you're fine with identifying subjects and verbs. This brings us to the rule for the day.


"NUMBER" means singular and/or plural. Also, the SUBJECT determines which "NUMBER" is correct. In other words, if the subject is singular (one person or thing), then the verb must be singular. If the subject is plural (two or more persons or things), then the verb must be plural. This is absolutely critical to know, so be sure you know what the subject of a sentence is. We'll take a look at many sentences--some with very easy subjects to identify and others with pretty tough ones to identify. Don't worry, though. You'll get the hang of it after you've done a little practicing.

Another interesting thing to mention in this context is that in English, we place an "s" on many NOUNS to make them plural. (Example: one dog-two dogs, one river-five rivers, one car-ten cars, etc.) However, we drop the "s" on many VERBS in the third- person present tense singular to make them plural. (he, she, it) . (Example: he walks-they walk, she sings-we sing, Robert sleeps-children sleep) This becomes important when you find a subject in a sentence with an "s" on it. Yes, the subject is plural, but there should not be an "s" on one of these verbs. Doing this would make the verb singular, and the subject and verb would then, of course, not agree. Example

In the parking lot many cars (look, looks) as if they have just been washed for the graduation ceremony.

If you correctly identified "look" as the correct answer, you're exactly right! Even though the subject, "cars", is plural ("s" on the end), "looks" is wrong. The "s" on the end of "looks" makes it SINGULAR, not PLURAL, and, by now, you know that subjects and verbs MUST agree in number.

Now try a few more and let's see how well you do:

(1) Many English words (come, comes) from words in other languages.

(2) We (need, needs) encouragement and recognition for our efforts.

(3) Jake (plan, plans) to attend Summer School.

(4) Our Wolfpack mascot (go, goes) to all the games.

(5) Jennifer (stand, stands) taller than anyone else in our class.

How did you do? If you thought the following way, then you should be 100% correct:

(1) "Words" is the subject. It's plural, so because "come" is the plural verb, "come" is correct.

(2) "We" is the subject. It's plural, so because "need" is the plural verb, "need" is correct.

(3) "Jake" is the subject. It's singular, so because "plans" is the singular verb, "plans" is correct.

(4) "Mascot" is the subject. It's singular, so because "goes" is the singular verb, "goes" is correct.

(5) "Jennifer" is the subject. It's singular, so because "stands" is the singular verb, "stands" is correct.

I hope these were nice and easy for you. I'm sure many of you can "hear" the correct answer without determining what the subject of the sentence is. We naturally do this much of the time. Just be warned, however, that many times what we "hear" is wrong, so be sure to try the little test of determining what the subject is first, and then the correct verb will be obvious. This will come in handy when you try to figure out some of the more difficult agreement problems. We'll move on next time to work with some more of them.

Thanks for visiting and have a great week! Peace and happiness to all. GG

1 comment: said...

In my view everybody must go through it.