Tag Archives: agreement

Let’s try not to be disagreeable

disagreement-floodThis is not a post about immigration — grammarians have no power over politics. It is a post about some of the more complicated aspects of subject-verb agreement, and it’s something I hope everyone can agree on.

The basics: Subjects and verbs must agree, that is, singular subjects get singular verbs, and plural subjects get plural verbs. With straight subject-verb-object constructions, this is easy and everyone gets it right.

A wrinkle: When more elements — such as a prepositional phrase or subordinate clause — are added to a sentence, it can end up that a plural noun is right before the verb, but is not the subject of the verb. Only the subject gets to “govern” the verb, that is, determine its number.

Example: The headline pictured above, “Flood of unaccompanied minors rush to cross Southwest border.”

To check agreement, take out the phrase or clause temporarily and look at the sentence. With no intervening words, it will be obvious what the verb needs to be.

Fix: “Flood of unaccompanied minors rush to cross Southwest border.” “Flood” is singular, so the verb should be “rushes.”

And the really tricky type: “She is one of those annoying people who publicly correct/corrects other people’s grammar.”

Should the verb be singular or plural? Let’s examine this sentence closely to find out.

  • “She” is not the subject of the verb “correct” – “she” is the subject of the verb “is.”
  • The subject of the verb “correct” is the relative pronoun “who,” which is referring to “people,” which is plural.
  • So “correct” is correct.

Think of it this way: There are annoying people who publicly correct other people’s grammar. She is one of them.

Thus, “She is one of those annoying people who publicly correct other people’s grammar.” But if someone says “corrects,” don’t correct them — it’s a common mistake and not one that sticks out.

Advertisements

None of the above

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on Feb. 3, 2011.

People have asked whether “none” is a singular or plural, and occasionally we’ve had readers write in to complain that we’ve used it wrong.

The good news is that “none” can be both singular and plural. The bad news is that the distinction can get a little squishy.

To put it as simply as possible:

If you mean “none” as “not any of it,” use a singular:
None of the tuna-noodle casserole was eaten. One casserole, “it.”
After the Ebola outbreak, none of the lab remains. One lab, “it.”
None of the homework is done. One concept, “it.”

But if you mean “none” as “not any of them,” use a plural:
None of the casseroles at the potluck were eaten. Several casseroles, “them.”
After the Ebola outbreak, none of the technicians are still alive. Many technicians, “them.”
None of the students are done with their homework. Many students, “them.”

We hope none of the confusion remains, and none of you are confused.

What is an appositive, anyway?

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on Dec. 13, 2010.

So we’ve done participles and gerunds, and because @glamAtude asked whether we could talk about appositives, here we go:

An appositive is a word or phrase that follows a noun and gives more information about it.

It can be a single noun:
Her new puppy, Paperboy, came home yesterday.puppy

It can be a noun phrase:
Paperboy, her new puppy, came home yesterday.

It can be a noun phrase plus a prepositional phrase:
Her new puppy, a black-and-white ball of energy, came home yesterday.
Her new puppy, a mutt from the pound, came home yesterday.

And so on. You can take out the appositive and you’ll still have a complete sentence.

Relative clauses are not the same as appositives, though they may convey the same information. Relative clauses begin with a relative pronoun and have a verb in the clause. Appositives are simple phrases, no verb.
Relative clause:
Betty, who is my neighbor, said …
Appositive:
Betty, my neighbor, said …

Usually appositives are set off with commas (one before and one after), because they’re adding extra information about the noun. These are called “non-essential” or “non-restrictive” appositives.

But sometimes an appositive is necessary to set apart or distinguish the noun:
Paul Simon the senator (as opposed to Paul Simon the singer)
Her dog Paperboy (as opposed to her dog Scout)

These are called “essential” or “restrictive” appositives, and are not set off with commas.

A note on agreement: The verb agrees with the main noun, not the appositive.
Truffles (plural), a luxury food (singular), are (plural) …
Paperboy (singular), one of the nicest dogs (plural) at the pound, is (singular) …

One of those people

Originally published on Grammar Monkeys on Nov. 22, 2010.

Are you one of those people who cringe — or is it “cringes”? — at misused apostrophes? Or is your favorite desk dinner one of those microwave meals that stinks — or is it “stink”? — up the whole office?

bubblesSentences with “one of those” can be confusing because either a singular or a plural verb seems like it would work: “one” is singular, and “those” is plural.

Here’s an example: “Georgia is one of those insufferable people who correct others’ grammar mid-sentence.” Is the subject of the verb “correct” the noun “people” or the noun “one”? If it’s “people” (hint: it is), then you need “correct.” But if it were “one” (which it’s not, hence we use the subjunctive here), then you would need “corrects.”

Think about it this way: There are insufferable people who correct others’ grammar mid-sentence. Georgia is one of them. “People” is what “who” refers to, and “people” is the subject of the verb “correct,” which means that “correct” needs to be plural.

The more mathematically inclined may prefer to look at it this way: [Georgia is one of [those insufferable people who correct others’ grammar mid-sentence]].

As an alternative, you could say, “Georgia insufferably corrects others’ grammar mid-sentence” or “Georgia is a person who insufferably corrects others’ grammar mid-sentence.” Those are fine too, but they’re different constructions.

Now you can be one of those people who get this right — but there’s no need to butt in on others who don’t.