Subject-verb Agreement, Part II
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Eva is a certified admissions counselor and the founder of PrepPoint, a premier test prep company in the San Francisco Bay Area.
So welcome to Part II of Subject Verb Agreement, I can see you're a glutton for punishment and back for more so we'll start out with a quick recap of what you've covered so far.
First up, subject and verbs have to "agree" which means they have to sound right together. And that explains why you say by noon, I am always starving but you say by noon, Grace is always starving. The verb and the noun have to sound right together. Of course it's much trickier on the SAT and the subject-verb agreement is tested throughout the writing section. On identifying errors questions and improving sentences questions.
Now in addition to the old rules, we also have to know about the new rules which are here. First of know these singular subjects: each, every, any, either, neither, one and none and with compound subjects that use "or" or "nor," you need to make the verb agree with the second subject. Don't confuse "there is or was" with "there are or were" and lastly watch out for weird word order when it comes to subject-verb agreement. Let's go into all these rules in more detail.
So the first new rule for subject-verb agreement is that there are certain words that are singular and you need to make sure that the verb agrees as if they were singular subjects, which they are. So those words are each, every, any, either, neither, one, and none and when you use them, you have to use the same verb conjugations as you would with other singular subjects like "he" or "it".
And let's of course see some examples, one of my friends are here today. So here the subject is the word "one" and I hope you recognize that as one of the singular subjects we just mentioned. Now we ignore "of my friends," which is a prepositional phrase, you should definitely remember that from the first unit on subject-verb agreement and then what we have left is "one are here today." That doesn't sound right, and it definitely isn't right, it should be "one is" so the original sentence should actually be changed to "one of my friends is here today," "one" is singular, "is" goes with singular, that's fixed.
Now that one sounds pretty straight-forward but it does get weirder so let's look at this example: None of my friends are here today. Almost the exact same sentence but the word "one" has become "none." But it's not that different, because none is still one of those singular words. And of my friends, is still a prepositional phrase we ignore. So "none are here today," might sound okay to you but it's not. And that's why we're talking about it. None is one of the singular words that might not sound singular but it is. So just like you would have to say "He is here today," 'cause "he" is singular, or "It is here today" 'cause "it" is singular, you have to say "none is here today." 'Cause none is singular. This might not sound right but it is. The sentence actually needs to be, believe it or not none of my friends is here today. I promise it's weird but that's the way it works.
The last example: Each of the three brothers want to take over the family business. Now it might sound okay, but it's not, let me show you why. Each is the subject and it's one of those singular words and "of the brothers," is a prepositional phrase so for the purposes of subject-verb agreement, we ignore it and then we have "each want." Now that might sound okay to you, it might not, but it's not because "each" is a singular word so it needs to conjugate the verb in the same way that another singular word would. So just like you would say, "It wants" or "He wants," you need to say "each wants." So the sentence should actually be, "Each of the three brothers wants to take over the family business," so that's the first rule.
Next up, "or" or "nor" with compound subjects that use "or" or "nor", which means a subject with a subject and then the word "or" or "nor" and then another subject, you need to make the verb agree with the second subject. Of course there are examples so let's look at those.
First up, "Most fans agree, that John or Paul were the cutest of all the Beatles." Now "or" tells us we have a compound subject and that connects two subjects, right? John on the one hand, and Paul on the other. And the rule with compound subjects with "or" or "nor" is that we have to agree with the second subject. So that's Paul. Nothing personal but we don't care about John right now. "So Paul was the cutest of all the Beatles." Not "Paul were" but "Paul was." So the overall sentence needs to be "Most fans agree that John or Paul was the cutest of all the Beatles."
And one more example for this principle, after a long day in the sun, neither coffee nor hot tea sound particularly tempting. So we know we're dealing with a compound subject because we have "nor" here, connecting "coffee" on the one hand with "hot tea" on the other, and with compound subjects connected with "or" or "nor" we'll look at the second subject "hot tea" and we conjugate with the second subject. So "hot tea sound tempting" doesn't sound right. "Hot tea sounds tempting" does. So the correct sentence or the correct answer choice that you'd want to look for, will be something like, after a long day in the sun, neither coffee nor hot tea sounds particularly tempting. So that's that rule.
Next up watch out for there is/was and there are/were. You don't want to confuse this pair with the other pair. Because "there is" or "there was" should be followed by a singular subject. It makes sense, you would say "it is" or "it was" so when you use "there is" and "there was" you need to be talking about a singular subject. Meanwhile, with "there are," or "there were," you talking about something plural like there are or there were so you're going to need a plural subject to follow. Let's look at some quick examples: The ancient Greeks believed there was just four basic elements: earth, water, fire and air. So we look at what we're talking about and it's four basic elements, that's plural of course, so you can't say there was, you have to say there were. Pretty simple. Next up, there is to be sure, several reasons to stay home during a thunder storm, so "there is" works with singular words but we're actually talking about several reasons that's plural. So "there is" should actually be "there are." And that's what a correct answer choice would look like.
Next principle, watch out for Weird Word Order, this is a little strange so stay with me, you need to make sure that the subject-verb agreement is correct, even when the subject comes after the verb. That's unusual because usually the subject comes first. Like you usually say I am. The subject is "I", the verb is "am." Now the inversion often occurs when the sentence starts with a preposition, like it's everything out of order and that's why a lot of people miss these. They're some of the hardest subject-verb agreement questions that appear on the SAT. Let me show you some examples of course. On the table is two large packages that just arrived. So this might at first sound okay, like "the table is" nothing wrong with that. But it's not.
First off, on the table can't be the subject because it's a prepositional phrase and I think you're seeing that prepositional phrases are definitely something you need to watch out for with subject verb agreement. And instead we need to look for the subject later in the sentence. "Two large packages is the subject that's plural so we have to say, not "is" but "are." So the sentence would be, if it were correct: On the table are two large packages that just arrived.
Next example, around the corner is a Laundromat and a cafe. Yet again it sounds perhaps okay initially, "the corner is" sounds normal but that's not our subject because around the corner is a prepositional phrase, it starts with the preposition "around" instead we need to look for the subject later in the sentence and we have, a Laundromat and a cafe. That's plural. So we can't say "a Laundromat and a cafe is" we have to say, a Laundromat and a cafe are. That makes the overall sentence in its correct form: Around the corner are a Laundromat and a cafe.
Last example: At the bottom of the article is a picture of the author and a summary of his accomplishments. This one as you can tell is starting to get long and that might make it even more likely that you'd miss the incorrect subject-verb agreement. But we can still identify the subject-verb agreement by going through the same steps. First of all, we have "at the bottom of the article" and that's a prepositional phrase. It's actually a prepositional phrase inside a prepositional phrase at the bottom of the article but either way we ignore it and then we have the verb 'is" and then the subject. A picture of the author and a summary of his accomplishments. It's a very long subject but it's plural. "Cause we have number one "a picture" and number two "a summary" because we're dealing with the plural subjects, the verb can't be "is" it needs to be "are." So yet again the correct sentence would look like at the bottom of the article, "Are a picture of the author and a summary of his accomplishments." Now that we've gone through all those rules, let's tie it together with a sample SAT problem.
So here we are with a question you'd expect to see on the identifying errors portion of the SAT writing. As you may recall, you are supposed to read through the whole thing and find the error, hopefully it jumps out at you right way and then you're done, otherwise go through piece by piece looking for which underlined part has a problem and if nothing does, you pick E- no error. So let's have a look at this one.
There were by the end of the day several issues that had arisen. Frustratingly, none of them were easy to resolve. Now I'm not sure if the right answer which means the wrong part jumped out at you but it's D and we'll talk about why right now. Then we'll go back and look at the other pieces and see what you should have checked for them if D had not already been the wrong answer. So with D, we have the verb were and very commonly with verbs, we have to check and see if they're conjugated properly. Subject-verb agreement. And the subject here is the word "none." "None" is one of those singular words we talked about, it's very important to remember that and by the way we ignore "of them" because that's a prepositional phrase.
So we have "none were" and that's wrong. Since "none" is singular, we have to conjugate "were" as if they were a singular subject. So just like you would say "he was" or "it was," we have to say "none was." So this should be "was" because it should be "was," and "were" is wrong, we're going to circle D. That's what we select as our wrong answer. As for the other parts, "there were," that's one of the things we talked about in this episode two, but there's nothing wrong here, 'cause "were" goes with plurals and "several issues" is plural. So that fits. Then we have "several issues that had arisen," and that may not be a verb or a construction you use much but it's fine, in present tense you say, "arise," in past tense you say "arose" and in past perfect you say "had arisen." Sounds kind of funky but nothing grammatically wrong. Frustratingly, that's fine. It's frustrating that the problems were not easy to resolve and so do you use wrong? Nothing else is wrong and that's our simple problem. Let's look at the bottom line.
So here are the advanced rules for subject-verb agreement. First off, you need to know the singular subjects, each, every, any, either, neither, one and none. It's a lot to learn but one of the benefits is, if this comes in handy not only for subject verb agreement but also for pronouns. So you kind of get a two for the price of one deal. In terms of learning and getting your pay off in your SAT bottom line.
Next up, with compound subjects that use "or" or "nor," make sure that the verb agrees with the second subject, also don't confuse "there is" or "there was" which goes with singular subjects with "there are" and "there were" which should be used with plural subjects.
And lastly, watch out for weird word order which most often occurs when you start the sentence with a prepositional phrase like around the corner or at the bottom of the page. And that's subject verb agreement.
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