Writing Tip Wednesday: Subject-Verb Agreement (Pt 1)

Dear Master’s Programs student,

Based on feedback from some readers, we is starting a new, short series on grammar.  Did you catch the mistake in that first sentence?  Good.  The error you likely saw is a problem in “subject-verb agreement,” (SVA) our first topic in this series.

SVAA subject-verb agreement problem occurs when the verb (or action) of a sentence doesn’t match the subject (the person or thing performing the action).  Sometimes, as in the example above, the problem is easily recognizable.  “We” is a plural subject, but “is starting” is singular.  Of course, the correct version would read “We are starting a new, short series.”

In your papers, however, the mistakes usually won’t be so easy to find.  Even your reliable friend the Word grammar check isn’t always able to recognize subject-verb agreement problems (which is why you need to know the rules, so you can check your paper yourself.  Don’t rely on a heartless computer algorithm to proof your work.  Real writing takes real human thinking!)

For fluent English speakers and writers, subject-verb agreement errors usually occur when the verb is very far removed from its subject.  Consider the following example:

“Awareness of how U.S. admission practices and application requirements impact Chinese students allow us to improve the admission and recruiting process.”

On a first reading, that sentence’s SVA problem would likely go undetected.  But if we remove some of the “extra” words between  the subject and verb, the errors becomes more obvious:

Awareness allow us to improve the admission and recruiting process.”

Note that the subject (awareness) is singular, but the verb (allow) is plural.  The corrected sentence would read

Awareness […] allows us to improve the admission and recruiting process.”

One of the tricks here is that a prepositional phrase* has been inserted between the subject and the verb.  Ignore the prepositions and the words that follow them when checking for SVA:

“Awareness of how U.S. admission practices and application requirements impact Chinese students allow us to improve the admission and recruiting process.”

*If you need a refresher on prepositions, check out next week’s Writing Tip addendum. 

Or this sentence:

“The candied apples from Grandma Louise looks delicious.”  When you ignore the prep. phrase “from Grandma Louise” the SVA mistake is easier to spot.

Next week we’ll look at other SVA rules.

Until then, happy writing!

James

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s