A lot of grammatical issues are simple enough that people make memes about them, but also so common you might see them weekly, if not daily. Memes aside, good grammar is an important tool in the working woman’s arsenal. If you want to show your bosses and clients that you pay attention to detail, you need to keep your spelling and grammar on point, and one of the most common errors you'd want to take note of are rooted in subject-verb agreement.
The grammatical rule of subject-verb agreement is easy enough to grasp: a verb must agree with its subject in number (singular or plural). Thus, a singular subject must be paired with a singular verb, and a plural subject should be paired with a plural verb.
But this can easily get confusing when it isn’t clear what the subject is or whether it’s plural or singular. Below are a few instances where subject-verb agreement mistakes are common, and how to resolve them.
Note: In the examples, subjects are underlined; verbs are in bold. Example:
INCORRECT: The flowers is in bloom.
CORRECT: The children run around the playground.
CORRECT: My mother is a doctor.
1. Indefinite Pronouns
Indefinite pronouns that are always singular (like “everybody,” “everyone,” “nobody,” “no one,” “each,” “one,” and “another”) are paired with singular verbs. Indefinite pronouns that are always plural (like many, few, both or several) are paired with plural verbs.
INCORRECT: Everybody know who the president is.
CORRECT: Nobody deserves to be oppressed or ignored.
INCORRECT: Not many cares about the issue of vaccination.
CORRECT: Many talk the talk, but few walk the walk.
2. Collective Nouns
Collective nouns are nouns that denote groups of individuals, whether people or things. As such, a collective noun is generally a singular word that can be used to describe a group. For example, you can us the collective noun “family” to denote your parents, siblings, spouse, and children. Some other examples of collective nouns include: a flock of birds, a group of people, an assortment of things.
When these are referred to as a unit, or collectively, rather than as separate individuals, use singular verbs. But if you are referring to these separately, use the plural.
INCORRECT: My family tend to be very traditional.
CORRECT: The whole family has come for dinner.
CORRECT: The group have shared their dissenting opinions. (Note: Plural verb because the members of the group would have shared their opinions individually, since these opinions differ from one another)
INCORRECT: A group of investors have arrived for a tour of the property.
Note: When referring to proper nouns like companies, people using American English will refer to a company as a singular entity. People using British or Australian English are more likely to refer to a company in the plural.
CORRECT (US): Apple is launching a new iPhone.
INCORRECT (US), BUT CORRECT (UK/AU): Google have released new products and services.
3. Indefinite Pronouns
Indefinite pronouns (like “none,” “any,” “all,” “more,” “most,” and “some”) do not refer to any specific person, thing, or amount. Their vagueness makes them a special case in the subject-verb agreement rule because whether they take a singular or plural verb depends on context. For this, you must ask yourself what you are referring to when you use these words.
CORRECT: Some of the children are here today.
INCORRECT: Some of the participants is hungry.
CORRECT: Some of the class is present.
INCORRECT: Some of the pie have been eaten.
4. Compound Subjects
Compound subjects are two or more subjects that share the same verb. When singular or plural subjects are joined by “and,” you should use a plural verb. When singular subjects are joined by “or” or “nor,” use a singular verb; but if one subject is singular and the other is plural, match the verb to the nearest subject.
INCORRECT: Richard and Cass is
CORRECT: Jason and Tim are brothers.
INCORRECT: Neither you nor I knows what really happen.
CORRECT: Either your mom or your dad needs to go to the PTA meeting.
INCORRECT: Neither the fish nor the vegetables is ready for serving. (“Is” is closer to “vegetables” and should be “are”)
CORRECT: Is either the fish or the vegetables ready for serving? (“Is” is closer to “fish” and is correct)
5. Subjects with Prepositional Phrases
Prepositional phrases (phrases that begin with prepositions such as “of,” “on,” “in,” “under,” “over,” “before,” after,” etc.) can often confuse you when it comes to identifying the real subject of a verb. Often these will be collective nouns modified by prepositional phrases beginning with of. But because your verb must always match your subject, one trick is to simply imagine that the prepositional phrase is not there.
INCORRECT: A flock of doves were released at the wedding. (Remove “of doves” and you are left with “a flock,” so the verb should be “was released”)
CORRECT: A series of mistakes was found in the code.
INCORRECT: The people on the bus has paid their fares.
CORRECT: The stats on the scoreboard were better than expected.