Category: grammar

Matching the verb to the subject of your sentence

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There are many situations where it can be difficult to determine whether to use the singular or plural form of a verb in a sentence. The key is to focus on the subject, and not all the other words around the subject that can distract you. To follow are examples of when to use the singular or plural form of a verb depending on the subject.

Note: Thanks to The Elements of Grammar by Margaret Schertzer for the direction.

Note 2: Some of the sentences are written in passive voice, or in a way to illustrate the point, and not necessarily the most effective or efficient way.

Compound subjects

Use the plural when the subject includes two or more nouns or pronouns connected by AND, except when the nouns refer to the same person or express one idea

  • Our cars and trucks are equipped with GPS devices.
  • He and his mother are on the school committee.
  • My wife and partner says I should pay more attention to her.
  • The heart and soul of the team is the goalie.

Use a singular verb when connecting singular subjects with OR or NOR.

  • Either the dog or the cat is sitting in your chair.
  • Neither Franklin nor Bash knows who took the pizza.

If you have one singular and one plural subject connected by EITHER-OR or NEITHER-NOR, put the plural subject second and the verb should agree with the plural subject.

  • Either the owner or the employees are able to deliver the goods to the client.
  • Neither my wife nor my children are allowed to drive my new car.

Agreement

The verb should agree with the subject. Ignore any nouns placed between the verb and subject.

  • The list of companies is located on my desk.
  • The latest report about our findings has been published on our website.

Verb before subject

Be careful when the verb comes before the subject. Pay attention to whether the subject is singular or plural, regardless of the order.

  • Lisa said there were case studies being written about how their customers used their software.
  • Within this book are appendices for the different resources used in its writing.

Working with quantities

The verb should agree with the noun in the prepositional phrase when working with fractions.

  • Half of the bottle was finished before I took it out of the cabinet.
  • Half of the people were from outside the region.

The verb should be singular for nouns of quantity, distance, time and amount that are treated as a unit.

  • Fifty dollars is enough for a birthday gift.
  • Six feet of space is required between the two of you.

Collective nouns

A collective noun names a group of persons, animals or things. If the noun refers to a group doing something as one, make the verb singular. If the noun refers to the individuals in the group, make the verb plural.

  • The group has come to a decision on where to go for dinner.
  • The parks committee are not in agreement on where to place the playground equipment.

Other blog posts on grammar topics


Do you need help with writing or grammar issues? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David

Understanding the four main properties of nouns

In a previous post, I discussed the different types of nouns. Today’s post is about the main properties of nouns.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, nouns have four main properties:

  • Case
  • Number
  • Gender
  • Person

Case

Case refers to the relationship between a noun (or pronoun) and other words in a sentence. While there is some disagreement about whether there are two or three cases, you only need to concern yourself with two:

  • Normal = no apostrophe: The principal is in her office.
  • Possessive = apostrophe: This is the principal’s office.

Number

Number shows whether the noun refers to one object (fox, stick, candy) or more than one object (foxes, sticks, candies). Some nouns differ when describing one object (person) compared to more than one object (people).

Gender

Gender is not used as often in English as it is in other languages, such as French or Spanish, which have masculine and feminine accompanying articles. Other languages also refer to non-living things in the masculine or feminine, whereas English typically uses gender only for people and other living creatures.

Gender can be masculine (son), feminine (sister) or common (parent). In the masculine and feminine cases, a gender-appropriate pronoun can replace the noun (e.g., he for son, she for sister).

Many gender-specific nouns that refer to a person’s job or position have gender-neutral versions. For example:

  • Police officer instead of policeman / policewoman
  • Firefighter instead of fireman / firewoman
  • Flight attendant instead of steward / stewardess
  • Server / waitperson instead of waiter / waitress

Note: The English language is constantly being updated to address people who do not identify with either the masculine or feminine gender, or who are gender-fluid. I am not knowledgeable enough to cover this topic in proper detail. My goal is simply to explain the meaning of gender in the use of nouns.

Person

Person refers primarily to pronouns, but also applies to nouns used with pronouns. A noun or pronoun can be in the:

  • First person = the one doing the speaking: I, David, swear that…
  • Second person = the one being spoken to: Girls, you are being…
  • Third person = the one being spoken about: That car belongs to…

Do you have any questions about grammar? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David

Understanding the different types of nouns

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If you’re a writer, then you should understand the most important tools of your trade – words. After all, words are your bread and butter. Many writers focus on understanding and properly using verbs, as they drive the action. However, you should also be familiar with nouns and how to use them.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style 15, a noun is “a word that names something, whether abstract (intangible) or concrete (tangible).”

  • An abstract noun describes something that you cannot see, hear, touch, taste or smell (e.g., feelings, concepts, ideas or events).
  • A concrete noun¬†describes something that you can either see, hear, touch, taste or smell.

A common noun is the informal name of an item in a class or group – an apple, a box, a bridge. Common nouns are not capitalized unless they begin a sentence or appear in a title.

A proper noun is a person’s name (e.g., Frank, Arlene), or the official name of a thing or place (e.g., Toronto, CN Tower). Proper nouns are always capitalized.

Count nouns have singular and plural forms (e.g., boat / boats, pixie / pixies. loaf / loaves). When a count noun is the subject of the sentence:

  • The singular count noun takes a singular verb (e.g., the box is heavy).
  • The plural count noun takes a plural verb (e.g., the boxes are heavy).

Mass (noncount or collective) nouns cannot be counted. They apply to something that is abstract (e.g., love, pressure) or something that has an unknown number of people or things (e.g., the staff, membership).

  • When a mass noun is the subject of the sentence, it usually takes a singular verb (e.g., the population is large).
  • When used in the collective sense, it can take either a singular or plural verb (e.g, The group is difficult to please / The group of vendors are difficult to please). The singular verb puts the emphasis on the group, while the plural verb focuses on the individual members.

Do you have any questions about grammar? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David