Writing Tip Wednesday: Subject-Verb Agreement (Pt 4)

Dear Master’s Programs Student,

It’s here at last: the final chapter in our SVA miniseries.  For those who found it tedious, we’re moving on to other things.  Those who will miss these grammar-related notes will happy to know that next week’s entry is about countable nouns.

This week’s focus is subject-verb agreement in two particular sentence structures.  The first the “There is”/“Here is” pattern. This structure can cause subject-verb agreement problems because unlike typical English sentences which use the subject-verb-object pattern, “there is”/“here is” puts the verb before the subject <gasp>.  (This inverted sentence structure makes it harder for native writers to “hear” a grammatical error.)

calvin-and-hobbes-laugh
Take, for example, this sentence: “There was an eerie silence and unbearable darkness pervading the room.

Even if you read it aloud, the sentence probably sounds okay to you.  (Don’t worry, it “sounds” okay to my ear, too.)  But if you dissect the sentence and rearrange the parts, you get this: “An eerie silence and unbearable darkness was pervading the room there.

So we have a plural subject (silence and darkness) with a singular verb (was pervading).  If you read these parts aloud (“silence and darkness was pervading”), you’ll likely hear the mistake.

When you write a “There is” or “Here are” sentence, be sure to check the SVA with these steps:
1.  Identify the subject (who/what is doing the verb).  In the example above, ask “What is pervading the room?” Answer: silence and darkness.  So “silence and darkness” is the subject.

  1. If the subject is plural, make sure you have a plural verb (usually do NOT end in “s”).
  2. If the subject is singular, make sure you have a singular verb (usually end in “s”).

The second sentence structure is similar.  Sentences that begin with a preposition also follow the inverted sentence pattern.

For example, “Among the problems associated with the flipped classroom is uneven access to technology and teacher resistance to online learning.”  This probably sounds right to most people, but if you dissect it using the steps above (or rearrange the parts), you get this: “Uneven access and teacher resistance is among the problems.” As with our other example, this sentence sports a plural subject with a singular verb.

Try the problems below [answers at the bottom of this entry].

  1.  There (is/are) growing concern surrounding the problem of gun-violence in schools across the nation.
  2. Below the poverty line (lives/live) over 45 million Americans.
  3. There (was/were) a little boy and his stuffed tiger featured in the subject-verb illustration.

Happy writing, and happy New year!

James

 

Answers: (1) is; (2) live; (3) were.

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