Does your verb fit your subject?

By JACQUELINE A. RANKIN
March 26, 2010 16:51

And some words can be singular or plural. Hey, isn’t English fun?

3 minute read.



Does your verb fit your subject?

blackboard abc 88. (photo credit: )

I promised when I began this column that I would not get too academic, but let’s face it: Singular subjects require singular verbs and plural subjects take plural verbs. That’s the law and if you break it, you will be severely censured by fussy grammarians.

Is you is or is you not my baby, sings the pop crooner. No, I isn’t, say I, just as ungrammatically. I am. You are. I takes a singular verb; we takes a plural verb. It’s all so simple. Like mud, as the kids say.

Don’t give up hope, Dear Reader, we’ll plow through this together.

Singular: Democracy is a weighty subject.

Plural: Action movies require many scenes.

NOT – Democracies is a weighty subject.

NOT – An action movie require many scenes.

Say that you have found the pesky subject of a sentence but cannot decide whether it is singular or plural – words such as couple, total, majority, number, any or none. Is the verb selection to be singular or plural? Here’s how to decide.

Words that stand for a group of things – couple, total, majority and number – sometimes mean the individual members of the group (plural). The presence of “the” before the word (the couple, the total, the majority and the number) is often a clue that it’s singular, so use a singular verb. The couple lives in apartment 9B.

When “a” comes before the word, and especially when “of” comes after (a couple of, a number of), it’s probably plural, so use a plural verb. (A couple of deadbeats live in apartment 9B.)

The words all, any and none can also be either singular or plural. If you’re using them to suggest all of it, any of it or none of it, use a singular verb. (All the money [all of it] is spent. If you are suggesting all of them, any of them or none of them, use a plural verb. All the customers (all of them) are gone.

Just to make this more confusing: Some words can be singular or plural. Hey, isn’t English fun?

Take a look at some of these puzzles: What is going on here? What are your intentions, Mister? As you can see, “what” can be either singular or plural when it’s the subject of a verb. If “what” stands for one thing, use a singular verb (is in this case). If it stands for several things, use a plural verb (are, for example).

But how do you choose? Consider this sentence: Phyllis is wearing things that (look or looks) like false eyelashes. Ask yourself: Does what refer to “a thing that” or “things that”? In this illustration, she is wearing things that look like false eyelashes. One would use the plural verb: Phyllis is wearing what look like false eyelashes.

Don’t be confused by nouns of amount. Ask yourself whether you are talking about the amount as a whole or individual units. Singular: Five hundred shekels is a lot of money.

Plural: We have a problem: five hundred shekels are missing. The singular is concerned with the collective amount and the plural is concerned with the individual shekels.

Indefinite pronouns can give us headaches also. I and you refer to specific persons, while pronouns beginning with any, every or some are called indefinite pronouns (not referring to a specific person).

Review Questions (answers at bottom of column):

1. Any of us (is/are) fine.

2. All the money (is/are) gone.

3. Sitting awkwardly on the floor (is/are) my parents.

4. At the end of most of our team’s games (come/comes) our sweet victory.

5. Each of the bikes (have/has) new lights.

6. Murgatroyd, along with Melissa, (pays/pay) for a new house.

7. I, along with the other students, (are/am) not passing this course.

8. I feel fat. Twenty of these extra pounds (needs/need) to come off.

9. The number of sheep in that field (are/is) surprisingly huge.

10. Four separate hours on four separate days (was/were) needed to finish the exam.

Answers 1. is; 2. is; 3. are; 4, comes; 5, has; 6. pays; 7. am; 8. need; 9. is; 10. were.

The writer is an author, teacher and body language expert living in the US.


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