Making Subject-Verb Agreement Errors

At the heart of a clear and grammatically correct sentence lies the harmony between the subject and its verb. This relationship, termed subject-verb agreement, often poses challenges for English learners. Let’s dissect this crucial grammar rule.

Decoding Subject-Verb Agreement:

The Fundamental Rule: If a subject is singular, its verb must also be singular. If plural, the verb must mirror that plurality.

Where Learners Often Stumble:

  1. Misled by Phrases Between Subjects and Verbs:
    • Example: “The bouquet of roses look beautiful.” (Should be “looks” because “bouquet” is singular.)
  2. Confusion with Indefinite Pronouns:
    • Words like “everyone,” “nobody,” “each,” and “either” are singular.
    • Incorrect: “Nobody like the new design.”
    • Correct: “Nobody likes the new design.”
  3. Thinking in Terms of Quantity, Not Number:
    • Just because something represents more than one item doesn’t make it plural.
    • Example: “Two-thirds of the cake is eaten.” (The subject ‘two-thirds’ is singular when referring to one cake.)
  4. Collective Nouns:
    • These denote a group (e.g., team, family, audience).
    • Example: “The team are wearing their individual practice jerseys.” (This suggests individual actions within the team.)
    • Counter Example: “The team is on a winning streak.” (The team is acting as one unit.)

Deep Dive into Exceptions and Nuances:

  1. Subjects Joined by ‘And’:
    • Usually takes a plural verb.
    • “The cat and dog are at the door.”
  2. Either/Or & Neither/Nor:
    • The verb agrees with the subject closer to it.
    • “Either the teachers or the principal is attending the seminar.”
  3. Titles or Entity Names:
    • Despite sometimes sounding plural, are singular.
    • “News is an essential part of our daily routine.”

Strategies for Mastery:

  1. Visual Aids:
    • Diagram sentences to identify the true subject and ensure verb agreement.
  2. Flip the Sentence:
    • Rearrange words; if the meaning stays consistent but the verb feels off, you’ve likely made an error.
    • Original: “In the woods, there is snakes.”
    • Flipped: “Snakes are in the woods.”
  3. Engage in Peer Reviews:
    • Having another set of eyes can often catch overlooked mistakes.

Practical Exercises for Reinforcement:

  1. Focused Writing Practice:
    • Write short essays or paragraphs intentionally using varied subjects. Review for errors.
  2. Grammar Workbooks:
    • They provide concentrated practice on specific topics like subject-verb agreement.
  3. Flashcards:
    • On one side, write a singular or plural subject. On the other, write its correct verb form. Use these for quick drills.

Subject-verb agreement, while nuanced, forms the backbone of coherent English sentences. Investing time to understand its intricacies will not only refine one’s grammar but will also bolster overall language comprehension and usage.

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