In the world of English grammar, subject-verb agreement stands tall as a fundamental principle. It ensures the harmony between the subject (the doer of an action) and the verb (the action itself) in a sentence. Simply put, if the subject is singular, the verb must be singular; conversely, a plural subject should have a plural verb. For instance, we say, “The team is playing,” not “The team are playing,” because the subject “team” is singular. On the other hand, “The players are playing” is correct, given the plural subject “players.” Understanding this seemingly simple rule can make a world of difference in crafting coherent and grammatically sound sentences.
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The Basics: Singular and Plural Matches
At its core, subject-verb agreement revolves around matching singular with singular and plural with plural.
- A dog barks.
- Dogs bark.
In the first sentence, “a dog” is a singular subject, and thus, it pairs with the singular verb “barks.” In contrast, the plural subject “dogs” aligns with the plural verb “bark.”
Navigating Collective Nouns
One area where subject-verb agreement often becomes tricky is with collective nouns. Words like “team,” “group,” “family,” and “committee” refer to a collection of individuals but are treated as singular entities. Thus, when talking about the unit as a whole, we use a singular verb.
- The team wins the match.
- The committee decides on the new rule.
However, when emphasizing the individual members within the collective, a plural verb can be used, especially in British English.
- The team are wearing their respective national jerseys.
- The family are going their separate ways for the holidays.
The distinction is subtle but crucial in conveying the intended meaning.
Compound Subjects and the Role of ‘And’, ‘Or’, ‘Each’
When two subjects are joined by “and,” they typically require a plural verb, because they represent a combined entity.
- Jack and Jill are going to the market.
- Peanut butter and jelly make a delicious combination.
However, if the compound subjects are thought of as a singular entity or are referring to the same thing or person, a singular verb might be more fitting.
- The CEO and founder of the company is attending the meeting. (Here, the CEO and the founder are the same person.)
When subjects are connected by “or” or “nor,” the verb agrees with the subject closer to it.
- Either the manager or the employees decide on the dress code.
- Neither the teachers nor the principal is responsible for the event.
Phrases that begin with “each” or “every” are singular and thus need singular verbs. This rule holds even when the subjects they modify are plural.
- Each of the players is responsible for their equipment.
- Every one of the books is on sale.
Subject-verb agreement, though rooted in basic grammar rules, requires attention to detail. It’s not just about singulars and plurals but understanding the nuances of collective nouns, compound subjects, and tricky connectors. By practicing regularly and staying attentive to the structure of sentences, one can master the art of agreement, leading to clearer and more polished communication.
As is the case with many aspects of the English language, the key to mastering subject-verb agreement lies in practice and consistent exposure. Engaging with varied reading materials and actively writing can sharpen one’s instinct for correct verb forms. Remember, while rules are foundational, fluency comes with application. So, practice, be curious, and enjoy the process of perfecting your English grammar!
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