Are We All in Agreement?

One day, I was sitting on the bus next to an international student who was taking a subject/verb pretest in English grammar. I nonchalantly read four of the multiple-choice grammar questions and noticed that two of her answers were incorrect. Since she had circled her answers in pencil, I almost grabbed her eraser, erased the mistakes, circled the correct answers, and explained the subject/verb error of her ways. However, I shouldn’t have been reading her little test in the first place, so there I was: trying to quell my grammar lecture. (Please note that I almost never read someone else’s reading material, so you’re safe, but it was grammar calling my name.) Here’s why I, unbeknownst to her, gave her a grade of 50%, at least in that section of her pretest:

For the subject and verb to agree, check how many subjects you have and what lies between the subject and verb. For example, if there’s an interrupter phrase flanked by commas or a prepositional phrase that contains a plural noun, you generally don’t include or consider these phrases when you look at subject/verb agreement:

I, along with all of the boys and girls from my group, am planning to participate. (Note that the section contained in commas is NOT part of the subject, so you can ignore it.)

All of the boys and girls and I are planning to participate. (As there are two subjects — “All” and “I” — the verb must agree with the subjects.)

One of the boys  is lost. (“One” is the subject of the sentence; “of the boys” is a prepositional phrase, so “boys” is the object of the preposition and therefore not the subject.)

Everyone, even Martha and her friends, is going. (“Everyone” is the subject.)

Sixty-five dollars is a lot of money. Ham and eggs is a favorite breakfast around here. (Sometimes two subjects or an amount of money can be treated as a combination or unit, so you can use the singular form of the verb.)

In certain cases, you might have to look at the prepositional phrase to determine if you need the subject or plural form of the verb:

All of the flour is gone. (Note that “flour” is singular, an uncountable noun.)

All of the bags of flour are gone. (Note that “bags” is plural, a countable noun.)
All of the flowers  are mine. (Here, “flowers” is plural.)

I’ve had a lot of trouble sleeping lately, maybe because I’m worried about that grammar student’s fake grade: a 50%. At any rate, at least we both were distracted, at least enough to forget we were riding on public transportation.

All aboard?


My English Quarters
Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English

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