SYNTAX: SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT in ENGLISH
What is Syntax?
- The syntax is the rule of placing the Verbs in agreement with the Subject in Number and Person.
- ‘Be’ Verb: Different forms for Subjects in Persons and Numbers:
- 1stPerson———I am, we are, I was, and we were
- 2nd Person ——You are, you are, you were, and you were
- 3rdPerson——-He/ She is, they are, He /She was, and they were
- Have Verb: No change except for Subject in 3rd Person singular in Present Tense:
- 1stPerson—— I have, we have, I had, and we had
- 2nd Person ——–you have, you have, you had, and you had
- 3rdPerson——- He /She has, they have, he/she had, and they had
- Other Verbs: No change except for Subject in 3rd Person in Simple Present Tense:
- 1st Person —- I do, we do, I did, and we did
- 2nd Person ——-you do, you do, you did, and you did
- 3rd Person —— He / She does, they do, He / She did, and they did
- Now study some important Subject –Verb Agreement Rules:
1. A Singular Subject takes the Verb in singular and a Plural Subject takes the verb in plural.
- There is a cat.
- There are three cats.
- They are happy. But a singular subject takes a plural verb in the subjunctive mood: if the story were true, what would it matter?
2. An uncountable noun, though plural in sense, takes a Verb in singular form:
- Her hair is grey.
- The grass is getting long.
3. We can use the + Adjective with a Plural Verb to refer to some group of people in society:
- The old are generally respected.
- The poor are not always dishonest.
4. Two or more Singular Subjects connected by ‘and’ usually take a Verb in the Plural. When ‘and’ is followed by a negative word as ‘no’ or ‘not’, The Verb agrees with the word preceding ‘no’ or ‘not’:
- Imran and Irfan are two brothers.
- He and his friend have arrived here.
- I, and not my brother, have done this.
- Only boys, and not the girl, are guilty.
5. If two Singular Nouns refer to the same person or thing, or two Subjects together express one idea, the verb must be Singular:
- The Captain and the Manager of the team is coming. (The same person)
- The Captain and the Manager of the team is coming. (The different person)
- Note– One article for the same person and two articles for different person; Bread and butter is his favorite food. Slow but steady wins the race. Early to bed and early to rise- makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
6. Titles and names of Plural form also take a Singular Verb when they refer to one thing, as;
- ‘Seven Dwarfs;-` was a very successful film.
7. A Phrase of measurement, though Plural in form, takes a Singular Verb, as;
- Two hours is a long time to wait.
- Five miles is too far
8. We use a Singular Verb after a Subject with every, each, any, everyone, someone, anything and nothing, as;
- Every pupil has a book.
- Each boy was wicked.
- Someone is waiting at the door.
- Nothing happens in this place.
- Note- When ‘each’ follows a Plural Subject; the Verb is Plural, as;
- “The pupils each have to take a test.”
9. If two or more Singular Subjects proceeded by ‘each’ or ‘every’ are connected by ‘and’ the Verb is usually singular, as;
- Each boy and each girl was dressed with a new dress.
- Every man, woman and child was charmed.
- Every man and woman of the village was present at the festival.
- Every hour and minute brings its call for duty.
10. Two or more Singular Subjects connected by ‘or’, ‘nor’, either’…or, ‘neither….nor’ takes a Verb in the Singular, as;
- The boy or the girl is fond of sweets.
- Either Kamal or Bilal has eaten the mango.
- Neither you nor I was there.
11. When the Subjects joined by ‘or’, ‘nor’, ‘either ….or’, ‘neither …. Nor’ are of different numbers, the Plural Subject comes hindmost and the Verb must be Plural, as;
- Asif or his friends have done this work.
- Neither Akbar nor his brothers were hurt.
12. When the Subjects joined by ‘or’, ‘nor’, ‘either….or’ ‘neither….nor’ are of different persons, the Verb agrees in Person with the one nearest to it, as;
- Either he or I have done this.
- Neither you nor he is to blame.
- Either you are he or I shall go to market.
- Note- The order of placing Subjects of different Persons are: 2nd Person, 3rdperson, 1st person (i.e.2-3-1). But in case of confessing faults, the order is reverse—- (1-3-2,) i.e. 1st person, 3rdperson, 2nd person. However, in both the cases, the Verb agrees to the person nearest to it, as;
- You, he and I shall watch the movie tonight. (Statement)
- I, he and you have done the mischief.
- Either I or you are to blame.
13. When Subjects differing in Number or Person, or both, are connected by ‘and’, the verb must always be in the plural though the placing of persons would be according to the above note, as;
- You, he and I are friends.
- You and he are birds of the same feather.
- You and I (not, I and you) would enjoy the movie.
14. A Collective Noun takes a Singular Verb when it is thought of as a whole and takes a Plural Verb when the individuals are separately thought of, as;
- The army was defeated.
- Fifty rupees is enough for me.
- There is a large audience.
- (But) The audiences are requested to take their seats (Separately).
- The jury has ordered to hang the culprit.
- (But) The jury is divided in their opinion.
- The committee has agreed to take unanimous decision.
- (But) The committee is divided in respect of details. The committee usually raise their hands to vote ‘yes’.
15. A lot of / A group of / A number of, as;
- There are a lot of boys on the ground. (Collectively)
- A lot of boys are playing in the field. (Separately)
- (Thus) Here is a group of boys. A group of boys are enjoying a picnic.
- There is a large number of boys in his class.
- A number of boys were caught copying.
- Special note from ‘Oxford Guide to English Grammar’ (John Eastwood)
- “When a plural noun follows number of, majority of, or a lot of, we normally use a plural verb. A large number of letters were received. The majority of people have complained. A lot of people have complained.
- Here a number of etc. expresses quantity.
- (a)(a) But, when number means ‘figure’, it agrees with the verb. The number of letters we is increasing.
- (b) (b) The word amount agrees with the verb. A large amount of money was collected. Large amounts of money were collected”.
16. Some Nouns which are Singular in form but plural in meaning take a Plural Verb. (These include police, people, staff, dozen etc.), as;
- The police are questioning a man. (But) The policeman is watching outside the house.
- People have to obey the law.
- The staffs have come to this decision.
- Two dozen (not dozens) make twenty four.
- One dozen of eggs cost thirty rupees.
17. Some Nouns which are plural in form but Singular in meaning take a verb in Singular form, as;
- The news is true.
- The wages of sin is death.
- Physics is a branch of science.
- Politics is the business of his life.
- A chemical works (factory) causes a lot of pollution.
- (But) Chemical works (factories) cause a lot of pollution.
18. Some Nouns are always plural and take a Verb in plural form. These include belongings, clothes, congratulations, goods, earnings, savings, riches (= wealth), premises, particulars, stairs, surroundings, etc. as;
- The goods were found to be defective.
- My belongings have been destroyed.
- Riches (=wealth) have wings.
19. When the Subject of a sentence is a Phrase (i.e. a group of words), the Verb must agree with the main Noun in the Subject group, as;
- The quality of the oranges is not good. (not are)
- Many leading members of the opposition party have tried to justify the decision.
- The only excuse that he gave for his actions was that he was tired.
20. When a Plural Noun is placed with a real Singular Subject (one, each etc.) with the help of ‘of’, the Verb must be Singular, not Plural. In such cases, a plural verb is often wrongly used. One of, each of, either of, neither of etc. take a verb in singular form, as;
- One of the boys was ill. (Not were)
- Each of the girls is clever. (Not is)
- Each of the rats was given a cake (not were)
- Either of the books is stolen. (Not is)
- The quality of the oranges is not good. (Not are)
- Note- After none’ and ‘none but’ we can use either a singular or a plural verb, as;
- None of the students has/have failed the test. ‘None is a shortened form of not one; yet it is commonly used with plural verbs.”
- “None of them has (have) come back yet.”
- “None but the brave deserves the fair.”
- “None but fools (has) have ever believed it.”
- ‘More than none’ takes a singular verb; but /more than two/three or more’ takes a plural verb, as;
- More than one boy is guilty. (But) more than two boys are guilty.
- Some notes from ‘Modern English usage’ by Fowler and ‘Current English usage’ by F. T. Wood, as;
- (a) ‘More than one is treated as compound of one and agrees with a singular noun and a singular verb. But, more than two is treated as a compound of two and agrees with a plural noun and a plural verb, as;
- More than one man was present there.
- More than two men were present there.
- (b) Half, heaps, lots, two-thirds, three-fourth, etc. take singular verbs when they are followed by singular nouns with of but plural verbs when followed by plural nouns with of, as;
- One-fourth water is mixed with three-fourth milk.
- Half of the work is done.
- Half of the apple is rotten.
- Half of the apples are bad.
- There is lots of work to do.
- Lots of people think so.
- After one and a half we use plural nouns and singular verbs, as;
- One and a half lemons were enough.
- (c) After one and a half we use plural nouns and singular verbs, as;
- One and half lemons were enough.
- (d) The greater/greatest part is singular when it refers to amount or quantity, plural when it refers to number, as;
- The greater part of the land is uncultivated.
- The greater parts of the apples are bad.
- (e) None—“it is a mistake to suppose that the pronoun (None) is singular only and must at all costs be followed by singular verbs, etc. The Oxford Dictionary explicitly states that plural construction is commoner.” As;
- (f) None of the letters have been opened yet. (plural), because, none has the meaning (‘not any’.)
- 21. When words are joined by ‘with’, ‘together with’ or ‘as well as’ etc. the verb agrees with the first subject, as;
- The Prime Minister with all the members of his cabinet has arrived.
- They with their father deserve praise.
- Salaam as well as his friends was punished.
- He, and not you (used parenthetically), has won the prize.
- Mr. Ali Ahmad together with some of his friends is buying some books.
- 22. After but not only…. But also, the verb agrees with the nearest subject, as;
- No sounds but their own voices were heard.
- Not only Ahmad but also the teacher is watching the film.
23. When the subject of verb is a relative pronoun, care should be taken to see that the verb agrees in number and person with the antecedent of the relative pronoun, as;
- I, who am your friend should stand by you.
- He who is my friend should stand by me.
- You who are my friend should stand by me.
- There is the boy who is my friend.
- These are the boys who are my friends.
- I am the man who has lost his cow.
- Those are the men who have lost their belongings.
24. In referring to anybody, everybody, anyone, everyone, each etc., the pronoun the masculine or the feminine gender is used according to the context. I shall help each of the girl’s in her studies. Each of the boys will do his duty. But when the sex is not determined, we use the pronoun of the masculine gender, as;
- Each must do his best.
- Anyone can do this if he likes.
- Everyone likes to have his way.
- If anybody knows the truth, let him tell it.
25. The indefinite pronoun ‘one’ should be used throughout, as;
- One should be careful of one`s (not his/her) duties.
- One can`t be too careful about what one (not he) says.
26. The case of a pronoun following than or as is determined by the sense of the context and that can be done by mentally supplying the verb in the given context, as;
- Ahmad’s house is better than Ali`s (house). Or, Ahmad`s house is better than that of Ali.
- He is taller than (am).
- I like you better than he (likes you).
- I like you better than (I like) him.
- They gave him as much as (they gave) me. “However, “He is taller than me’ is now accepted.”
27. Many a / many an before a noun is singular in form and the verb is usually singular, as;
- Many a rose is born to blush unseen.
- Many an admirer praised him.
- Note- But when ‘A great many’ / ‘A good many’ / ‘Too many’ is used instead of ‘Many a’ / ‘Many an’ it is plural in form and the verb is also plural, as;
- Too many cooks spoil the broth.
- A great many/ A good many boys were absent from the class.
28. Pair Nouns, as;
- A pair noun like trousers, glasses, scissors, etc. is plural in form and takes a plural verb, as;
- These trousers need cleaning.
- Your new glasses are very nice.
- Here are the scissors.
- We can`t use “a, or numbers” before the pair nouns.” Not a trouser and not two trousers.”
- We can use “pair(s) of” such pair nouns with a singular or a plural. This pair of trousers needs cleaning. How have three pairs of scissors managed to disappear?
29. A single Auxiliary may serve two principal verbs if the construction allows it, as;
- I have lost the pen but (have) got the book.
- [Common Auxiliary for the same subject and same tense]
- But when the subjects and tenses are different, Common Auxiliary will not serve the purpose, as;
- You have retired, but your brother has resigned.
- I have resigned and a new man has been appointed.
30. A Clause or a Phrase as a Subject takes a singular Verb, as;
- To err is human.
- That he is honest is known to me.