We're offering you a crash course in subject-verb agreement and pronoun agreement. Let's get started!
To combat the grammatical errors plaguing the web today, we’ve decided to offer a free crash course on two of the most common mistakes we see: subject-verb agreement and pronoun agreement. Will this crash course make you a grammatical genius? Probably not, but it’s a step in the right direction. Ready? Let’s do this.
Warning: The examples that follow involve food. If you're hungry, you may want to grab a snack.
So what does subject-verb agreement even mean?
Well, to have “agreement” between your subjects and verbs, the subject and verb of a sentence must match in number:
The turkey smell fantastic. The subject is singular while the verb is plural. This sentence is incorrect.
The turkey smells fantastic. The subject and verb are singular.
The turkeys smell fantastic. The subject and verb are plural.
Need a trick to help you figure out how to make sure your subjects and verbs agree? We have one! More often than not, if the subject is he, she, or it, or the subject can be replaced by one of these personal pronouns, simply adding an -s to the present-tense form of the verb will make them agree.
There are three common mistakes involving subject-verb agreement: nearest-noun agreement errors; agreement with there is and there was; and agreement with compound subjects.
Nearest-noun agreement errors mainly pop up when the subject phrase is overly complicated or long and causes the actual subject to get lost.
The price of the yummy potatoes were better than we expected. This sentence is incorrect. The subject of this sentence is price not the nearest noun potatoes. Price is a singular subject, so the verb should be singular rather than plural. The nearest noun, potatoes, is not the subject of the sentence, so the verb does not need to match it.
The price of the yummy potatoes was better than we expected. This sentence is correct! Price is singular, as is the verb was.
Agreement errors with there is and there was occur when the sentence starts with there is or there was and the subject appears after the verb.
There is usually some delicious delicacies on the table when Thanksgiving rolls around. This sentence is incorrect. The verb is singular in this sentence while the subject is plural.
There are usually some delicious delicacies on the table when Thanksgiving rolls around. This sentence is correct! The verb and subject are both plural.
The final common error of subject-verb agreements is agreement between a verb and compound subjects. A compound subject means the sentence has two or more subjects joined by the word and.
A recipe and a special ingredient is necessary for a fantastically delicious pumpkin pie. This sentence is incorrect. The verb is singular while the subject, recipe and ingredient, is compound and, therefore, plural.
A recipe and a special ingredient are necessary for a fantastically delicious pumpkin pie. This sentence is correct! The verb is plural, matching the compound subject.
Think you’ve got a handle on subject-verb agreement? Good. Let’s move on to pronoun agreement.
In order to refer back to previously mentioned nouns, you use third-person personal pronouns (words such as their, they, he, she, him, and her). The previously mentioned nouns are known as the antecedent of the pronoun. Pronouns must agree with their antecedents in number, person, and gender.
If the antecedent is plural, the pronoun that follows must be plural, too. If the antecedent is singular, then the pronoun should be singular. If the antecedent is feminine, then the pronoun must also be feminine. If the antecedent is a singular noun without gender but refers to a person — think nouns such as teacher — you should use him or her. If the antecedent is an event or thing, then you use a form of the pronoun it.
Are you still with us? Let’s look at some examples to clarify things a bit.
A good host prepares enough food for all of their guests. This sentence is incorrect. The antecedent host is a singular noun while the pronoun their is plural.
A good host prepares enough food for all of his or her guests. This sentence is correct! The antecedent host is a singular noun representing a person and doesn’t specify gender. His or her refers to a singular antecedent (check!) and provides options for either gender (check!).
Need an easy way to help you identify pronoun-agreement errors? Here’s a hint: Most of these errors involve the plural pronouns them, they, or their when referring to singular antecedents. If you use these pronouns, check to see if your antecedent is plural by putting the word are after the antecedent. If are doesn’t sound quite right after the antecedent, then the antecedent is singular and has an agreement error with the plural pronouns. To fix the error, you can make the antecedent plural, change the plural pronoun to a version of the singular pronouns he or she, or reword the sentence entirely to get rid of the pronoun.