As promised, continuing from last week, we arrive at the announced stop today: Verb-Subject-Agreement. Without getting into a detailed discussion on the matter of different tenses of a verb, which also poses an obstacle to our writing endeavors, I aim to highlight only the basic aspects of the focal language element.

The most slippery road in this regard appears before us in the shape of the sentence part known as the “noun”. To conjugate a verb that articulates the action of a singular noun as opposed to the conjugation of one performing the same task for a collective noun is the key here. In speaking, we more often than not resort to a blurred application when the harmony between the verb and the subject is concerned. When the same innocent glitch takes place in a *written text, however (*written as opposed to an audio-narrative), we, as writers, lose our learned audience. For our sentence-construct then lacks clarity loud and clear.

  • Let us consider the noun, “family”. We all know that a family is made of more than one person. Hence, the fact that this word is a “collective noun”, which automatically designates for it a verb conjugated in the singular form:
    • My family takes a trip to the same seaside town every summer.
  • Whether we use the same verb in its progressive present or present perfect tense form, the same rule applies:
    • My family is taking a trip to the same seaside town this summer. / My family has taken a trip to the same seaside town this summer.

Note only “has” in the second sentence above, i.e. the helping verb, a.k.a. the “auxiliary verb”, for “taken” is a past participle form, and as such, does not / cannot signify singularity or plurality. Nor do / can the same verb’s simple past, past perfect and future tense forms help us in determining whether or not we have a singular or a collective noun in our hands (My family had taken a trip to the same seaside town when I was ten. / My family will take a trip to the same seaside town this summer.]

  • Then, we have compound subjects, for which we have to conjugate our verbs in their plural forms:
    • My brother’s family and mine go on the same trip every summer. Or:
      My brother’s family and mine get along very well. Or:
      My brother’s wife and mine have the same Yoga instructor.
  • However, as soon as we designate a singular noun to a verb, the verb must also appear in its singular form:
    • Lately, my brother or his wife goes on the same trip with me alone.
      My brother’s wife no longer gets along with mine.
      My brother’s wife now has a different Yoga instructor.
  • What happens to the rule of focus when the subject and verb are divided by a phrase? The same rule applies yet once again:
    • Nowadays, my brother, with his nephew James, goes on the same trip.

Next Post: Direct Objects and Prepositional Objects






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