Recently we discussed that subjects and verbs must agree or else they don’t play very nicely together. Please refer to “Subjects and Verbs Must be in Agreement or They Don’t Play Fair”. In keeping them playing nicely and working together its sometimes difficult to know how to apply the rules. You must know about present and past tense, singular and plural forms of nouns, verbs, pronouns and helping verbs. And if these rules weren’t hard enough to follow and keep up with, today we’re going to throw in interrupting words.
Most of the time a subject and verb are close together in a sentence and its easy to recognize them and see that they are in agreement. But sometimes we add a phrase or clause to modify the subject and it comes between the subject and verb. This is often where a problem arises with determining what the verb should agree with. Many people have it agree with the word its closest too but this is usually not correct. The verb should always agree with its subject. The key is to determine exactly what the subject is.
*A subject and verb must agree and is not affected by any words that interrupt or come between them.
The statues, on the shelf, were bought at the thrift store. (Were should agree with the statues, not with the shelf)
The bed, covered with rose petals, was very pretty. (Was should agree with the bed, not with the rose petals)
Sometimes we have a negative subject come between the positive subject and the verb. In this case the verb will agree with the positive subject.
A good actor, not fancy directors, makes a movie good. (Makes should agree with the positive subject which in this example is a good actor. It should not agree with the negative subject. Fancy directors is made negative by adding the word ‘not’ so the verb does not agree with that.
Words such as like, in addition to, as well as, etc. are considered parenthetical expressions. Often they will come between the subject and verb. The rule still stands that the verb should be in agreement with the subject.
John, together with his collegues, is running a race tomorrow. (Is agrees with John and not his collegues.)
The girls, as well as my mother, are going shopping. (Are agrees with the girls and not with the mother.)
These rules can be very intimidating, especially if you haven’t looked at them since high school or college. Keeping them fresh in your mind will help you write better sentences, which creates better paragraphs, which makes the over all article read much better.
Stay tuned for Compound Subjects.