Subject verb agreement can be one of the more challenging aspects of writing. While short clauses provide for an easily identifiable subject, longer clauses with extensive phrases can make proper subject verb agreement more of a challenge.
The first and most important rule in subject verb agreement is that the verb must agree with the intended number of the subject.
To accomplish that task, follow two occasionally not so simple tasks.
- Identify the real subject
- Determine whether subject is singular or plural
The first step is often made difficult by phrases and/or sentence structure that work to obscure the true subject.
Prepositional phrases are one of the main culprits in the misidentification of the true subject of the clause. Remember, objects cannot be subjects, so the object of a preposition cannot be a subject of a clause.
Among the constitutional rights we cherish is freedom.
- AMONG is a preposition; therefore, RIGHTS is the object of the preposition. FREEDOM is the subject of the sentence.
The group of protesters is blocking the entrance to the building.
- OF is a preposition; therefore, PROTESTERS is the object of the preposition. GROUP is the subject of the sentence and it is singular.
The annual rituals of the group confuse the neighbors.
- OF is a preposition; therefore, GROUP is the object of the preposition. RITUALS is the subject of the sentence and it is plural.
Parenthetical phrases can also work to obscure the true subject. Phrases such as “as well as,” “such as,” “along with,” “rather than,” “accompanied by” and “including” introduce items that are NOT considered when determining whether a verb is singular or plural.
The quiz, as well as all workbook exercises, was collected.
- QUIZ is the subject. The parenthetical expression does not affect the verb.
His jacket, not his shirt or his socks, always seems to match his slacks.
- JACKET is the subject. It is singular. The parenthetical expression does not affect the verb.
Her birthday celebration, together with the upcoming holiday, makes for a very full calendar.
- CELEBRATION is the subject. The parenthetical expression does not affect the verb.
The president and vice president, accompanied by the board of directors, plan to vote against changing the company bylaws.
- PRESIDENT and VICE PRESIDENT are the subject. The verb is plural.
Expletives (There, Here) are false subjects. Disregard them completely when determining the subject that the verb must agree with.
There are fewer students in this class.
- The true subject in this sentence is STUDENTS.
Officer, here is the person I was telling you about.
- The true subject in this clause is PERSON.
Predicate nominatives can lead to some confusion when determining the true subject. Remember to find the subject and verb combination first and then begin to determine whether that subject is singular or plural.
The war-torn country’s only relief was the food and medical supplies dropped from the sky.
- The true subject in this sentence is RELIEF.
The explanation provided by the agency was farming practices, population growth and international aid.
- The true subject in this sentence is EXPLANATION.