Subject-verb agreement is one of the most basic rules in English grammar, yet it is also one of the most frequently violated. This mistake occurs when the subject of a sentence and the verb that follows it do not match in number. For example, a singular subject requires a singular verb, while a plural subject requires a plural verb. Failing to follow this rule can make a sentence sound awkward, confusing, or nonsensical.
Here are some common errors to look out for when checking subject-verb agreement:
1. Indefinite pronouns: Indefinite pronouns refer to a nonspecific person or thing, such as anyone, everyone, someone, nobody, and everybody. These pronouns can be either singular or plural, depending on the context. For example, “Everyone is happy” is correct because everyone is singular, while “Everyone are happy” is incorrect because the verb should be plural.
2. Compound subjects: A compound subject consists of two or more nouns or pronouns that are joined by a conjunction such as and, or, or nor. The verb should agree with the number of the entire subject, not just the last noun or pronoun. For example, “The dog and the cat are playing” is correct because the subject (dog and cat) is plural, while “The dog and the cat is playing” is incorrect because the verb should be plural.
3. Collective nouns: Collective nouns refer to a group of individuals or things treated as a single entity, such as team, family, or staff. Depending on the context, these nouns can be either singular or plural. For example, “The team is practicing” is correct because team is considered a single entity, while “The team are arguing” is incorrect because the verb should be singular.
4. Separated subjects: When a sentence has two or more subjects separated by a phrase or clause, it can be easy to forget to match the verb with the first subject. For example, “Running, jumping, and swimming is my favorite hobby” is incorrect because the verb should be plural to match the three activities. The correct sentence would be “Running, jumping, and swimming are my favorite hobbies.”
5. Intervening words: Sometimes, words or phrases intervene between the subject and the verb, making it difficult to determine the correct agreement. For example, “The list of items to buy is on the table” is correct because the subject (list) is singular, while “The list of items to buy are on the table” is incorrect because the verb should be singular.
In conclusion, following the basic rule of subject-verb agreement is crucial for effective communication and clear writing. By being mindful of these common errors, you can improve your writing and avoid confusion for your readers.