S-V agreement

rogersgeorge on September 15th, 2012

I have mentioned subject-verb agreement before, but I found a comic that gives a good example of doing it wrong, so I’ll bring it up again.

The rule is that a singular subject gets a singular verb, and a plural subject gets a plural verb.

The problem is that sometimes you can lose track of the subject. Forgetting that you have a singular subject is fairly easy when the subject is part of a group. For example, if you say, “One of the students…” you might be tempted to use a plural verb because “students” is plural. Now maybe not, because the subject, “one,” is still pretty close, especially if you’re thinking carefully about your writing. But when the stuff between the subject and verb gets more voluminous, you can lose track fairly easily. The name for this is “attraction,” and I understand it’s okay in Latin, but it’s not in English.

So here’s the comic:

Jerry Van Amerongen’s Ballard Street is an excellent off-the-wall single panel cartoon

Now the caption to this comic is tricky. The main subject and verb are “Gary is.” Then we have five words between the subject and verb of the subordinate clause. If you said, “One of those guys has a problem,” you might get it right, but throw in the “who never” and you have a pretty good distraction from the actual subject, “one,” not “guys.”

You can find Ballard Street on gocomics.com, and I recommend it for a nice break from the conventional. And thanks for the good goof, Jerry.

Here’s what might be an exception to this rule. You would say that “many” is a plural, right? So it should get a plural verb, right? Even with a singular-feeling prepositional phrase between “many” and the verb, right? Then what about this:

Many a man likes to get his grammar correct.

Yes, the singular verb, “likes,” is correct! Sigh. That there English language, it just ain’t always gonna make sense.

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