The Write Stuff

Verbal (dis)agreement

2004-07-14 13:36

In English the verb should "agree with" the subject, which means that we cannot say: He were rich; It were very hot; Does you have enough money? We is Sharks supporters; or The cat and the dog likes to fight.

If your mother tongue is English you would generally get most cases of subject-verb agreement right - it's part and parcel of the grammar you intuitively know.

Nevertheless it is surprising how easy it is to slip up when a sentence contains a singular noun as well as a plural noun and the latter is closer to the verb than the former. The following sentences are among several I have come across in publications:

As other women from the community emerge, their complex response both to Aisha and the stoning in Jordan reveal a range of responses to their own identity.

The juxtaposition of Muslim traditions and festivals with the popular South African culture of BMWs and mall fashions provide for some of the sharpest laughs [in the production].

Is a child's rights protected when he or she is in trouble with the law?

In the competition one entry in each of five categories were nominated for the final round.

His lifetime of achievements make him an apt choice for the award.

Even normally careful writers/speakers would do well to take extra care when constructing sentences like these.

The problem of verb form selection crops up in other cases as well. Should we say "the family were unanimous about a holiday destination" or "the family was unanimous"; "the committee has proposed" or "the committee have proposed"? These and similar examples will be considered in another article.

Nicky Grieshaber, formerly a university lecturer, is now a translator, text editor, study skills trainer and general entrepreneur.

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