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Speak on the rules of subject – predicate agreement

Agreement between the subject and the predicate verb refers to the way the verb has a form appropriate to the number and person of the subject. So the first step is to identify the subject of the sentence.

If a sentence has a simple subject, we should recall the grammatical characteristics of the word used as the subject. A singular noun-subject is followed by a singular verb, and a plural noun-subject is folowed by a plural verb. Various cases of irregular and invariable nouns should be memorised and observed. Here we should mentioned only the basic groups of such nouns.

1. The nouns that have the same singular and plural forms: deer, grouse, sheep, fish (and some names of fish-mackerel, salmon, trout, etc), fruit, craft/aircraft/hovercraft/spacecraft.

This sheep is from Australia. - These sheep are from Australia.

The craft was sunk. – All the craft were sunk.

2. The following collective nouns do not have plural forms and must be followed by a plural verb: cattle, the clergy, the military, people, the police, swine, vermin:

The military have surrounded the building.

3. Some collective nouns can be used with either singular or plural verbs. They are: audience, class, club, committee, company, congregation, council, crew, family, gang, government, group, jury, mob, staff, team, union and many others. Plural verbs are common when the group is considered as a collection of people doing personal things like deciding, hoping, wanting:

My family have decided to move to Nottingham. They think is a better place to live.

The average British family has 3.6 members. It’s smaller and richer than 50 years ago.

The same holds true for the nouns the aristocrasy, the gentry, the proletariat, the majority, the minority, the public, the youth of today, offspring:

Give the public what it wants/they want.

4. Some nouns in –s are always singular. They are news, billiards, cards, darts, dominoes, some nouns in –ics: athletics, gymnastics, lingustics, physics:

Physics is a compulsory subject at school.

However, some words in –ics, such as acoustics, economics, ethics, politics, phonetics, statistics when denoting academic disciplines or spheres of human activity are used with the singular verb, in other meanings – with a plural verb. Compare:

Economics has only recently been recognised as a scientific study. (an academic discipline)

The economics behind their politics are unreasonable. (the financial system, calculations)

Acoustics is a branch of physics. (the scientific study of sound)

The acoustics in the Festival Hall are extremely good. (sound quality)

5. Some nouns in –s have the same form for singular and plural meanings which can be understood from the context. These nouns are crossroads, headquarters, kennels, means, series, species, works. Compare:

This crossroads is always dangerous.

The crossroads in the city centre are always busy.

This species of rose is very rare.

There are thousands of species of butterflies.

6. Finally, some nouns in –s always take the plural verb. They are trousers, scissors, glasses, binoculars, pants, shorts (objects consisting of two parts), antics, belongings, brains (=intellect), clothes, congratulations, contents, earnings, goods, greens (=green vegetables), lodgings, looks (=good looks), outskirts, savings, scales, stairs, surroundings, premises, thanks, tropics, wages:

All my belongings are in this bag.

The company’s earnings have increased for the last five years.

A prounoun subject.

1. If the quantity is expressed by a universal pronoun (everybody, everyone, either, everything, each), negative pronoun (nobody, no one, neither), indefinite pronoun (someone, somebody, anybody, anything)or pronominal phrases – the verb is singular.

Everyone in the group is present.

No one in the group has made a mistake.

Somebody is knocking at the door.

Care should be taken if a phrasal subject has an of-phrase following the pronoun like in any of, each of, either of, neither of. In formal written English (such as academic writing) a singular verb is preferable. Informal English allows a plural verb in case of a plural noun.

I don’t think any of them knows where the money is hidden.

Neither of the French athlets has/have won this year.

The subject of the pronoun nonecan be followed either by a singular (which is considered formal and rarely used) or a plural verb (which is considered normal, though slightly informal):

None of the group have/has come.


2. The pronoun bothas well as phrases with it logically (and grammatically) plural:

Which of these are yours? – Both are mine. Both of the bags are mine.

3. The form of the verb in case of a subject containing or expressed by the universal all or interrogative pronouns who, what, which depends on what what is implied or named in the previous part of the sentence and is, in fact, the notional subject for the predicate verb:

All is well (=everything) All are well (=everyone)

Who has come? – Who have come? (=if more than one person is implied)

The girl who lives next dor is my sister.

The girls who live next door are my sisters.

The same holds true for sentences with the emphtic costruction It is … that/who… . Compare:

It is I who am wrong. (formal) – It is me who is wrong. (informal)

It is them who are wrong.


Phrasal Subjects

1. Subjects expressed by quotations, names or titles usually take a singular predicat verb:

“Fathers and Sons” is the most popular of Turgenev’s novels.

Though the titles of collections of stories may be followed either by a singular or a plural verb:

“Canterbury Tales” was/were published in 1852.

2. Numerical expressions of addition, substraction, division, as a rule take a singular predicate. However, in case of multiplication or if the predicate is other than be, the verb can be plural:

· Two and four is six.

· Two and four makes six.

3. If a phrasal subject contains expressions of quantity, the basic rule holds true – agreement with the head word:

· Some of the children were bored.

· Some of the gossip was surprisingly accurate.

4. With the expressions of time, money, weight, distance or after per cent (%) the predicate verb is singular:

· Ten years is a long period of time.

· 4 per cent makes a big inflation rate.

5. When the subject contains the number one, a singular verb should be used:

One of the stolen cars was recovered.

One in every five learns French.


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