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Subject/Verb Agreement: Not Always That Easy

2014 April 28
by Fay Lamb

GrammarThe discussion has been about verb tenses. Sometimes, problems arise when an author isn’t careful to make sure that the subject and the verb agree.

There usually doesn’t have to be any thought when creating sentences such as: “He is my boyfriend” or “they are his sisters.” Singular subjects match with singular verbs. Plural subjects match with a plural verb.

The trouble arrives when we have indefinite pronouns such as everyone, anyone, nobody, no one, someone. These pronouns are always singular: No one is going to rescue me.

Indefinite pronouns, such as all or some, can be either singular or plural. In earlier discussions on nouns, we learned that some are countable. If the object referred to when using all or some is a countable noun, you use the plural form of the verb.

Mary weeped because all of her sheep were gone. (You can count Mary’s sheep, so the plural verb is used).

All of the wool is gathered. (We couldn’t really count the wool, so a singular verb is used).

Wait. We’re not done. None can be either plural or singular based upon the meaning the author wants to attribute it to. Here’s the key. If, by the meaning of none, the author intends it to say, “not any,” then the plural form of the verb should be used. If the meaning is not one, use the singular form:

None of you wants to go to the store. (Meaning: none of them=not any)

None of you plan to drive to the mountains. (Meaning: none of them=not a one of them)

Other troublesome indefinite pronouns are everybody and each. These are always paired with a singular verb. Always couple the verb with the word each: Each of the men is wearing a plaid shirt. Translated: Each is wearing a plaid shirt.

Tomorrow, we’ll look more at other parts of speech that confuse authors when trying to match a subject with its verb.

2 Responses Post a comment
  1. April 28, 2014

    Fay, I love these lessons and reminders. Sometimes, you clarify a rule I’ve struggled with for years and other times you let me know I’ve been doing doing something right. Either way, it’s good to dust off the teaching of 40-45 years ago.

    • Fay Lamb permalink*
      April 28, 2014

      Thank you, Karen. The secret is that posting for The Tactical Editor allows me to brush up or to even learn something new. I’m glad that it also helps others.

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