Verb agreement. On one level, it is considered elementary: one dog runs, two dogs run. But as soon as your sentences become a little more sophisticated, verb agreement becomes more challenging. For example, if I have a collective noun, such as staff, but the individual staff members act separately, do I use plural or singular? Is it
- The staff is working on their new assignments this Monday.
- The staff are working on their new assignments this Monday.
- The staff is working on its new assignment this Monday.
Choice A is incorrect because I treated staff as a singular word when I chose my verb, is, and I treated staff as a plural word when I referred back to the staff using their. This mismatch is considered ungrammatical. The correct answers are B and C, depending on whether each employee is working on a separate assignment or the whole staff is working on the same assignment.
Other problems with verb agreement occur with singular pronouns such as each, which are often followed by plural nouns. In the following sentence, each is the singular subject--don't let yourself be fooled by the word cups:
Each of the cups is decorated with a unique design.
When you start a sentence backward, by using a false subject or by starting with the verb, you may have to go hunting for the true subject later in the sentence:
There were three cups in the sink.
The true subject is cups, so the verb is the plural were.
And when you have multiple subjects in your sentence, watch out! If they are joined by the word or, you simply match your verb to the subject closest to it.
These problems and others are addressed in this week's challenge. See if you agree that verb agreement is not just for elementary school anymore! As always, please send your answers to me.
Select the correct verb from the choices in parentheses
- The smoke (was/were) coming from the tin stovepipe atop the garage.
- A pack of smokes (was/were) lying on the ground beside the car.
- The class (is/are) meeting on Tuesday to discuss their projects.
- The tree or the bushes (has/have) to be trimmed before the new driveway can be put in.
- The electric pole and the mailbox (has/have) to be moved as well.
- There (is/are) at least three reasons we want to attend the class.
- Entering the ballroom after midnight (was/were) five members of the football team.
- Smith, Michaels and Brown (is/are) the law firm representing the company.
- Either of the curtains (is/are) a good choice for the décor of the room.
- Neither the player nor the ball (was/were) over the goal line.
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