Subject-Verb Mistakes

The most common subject-verb mistake is one in agreement. The verb must always agree with the subject in both number (singular or plural) and person (first, second, or third). Here are three problem areas:

  1. There are words between the subject and verb. In this case, it is best to cover the intervening words when you proofread so that you can see the subject and verb only in order to make sure they agree. (A list of employees is on the supervisor's desk. The phrase of employees does not affect the agreement of the singular subject, list, and the singular verb, is.)
  2. The subject has more than one part. If two-part subjects are joined by and, they are usually plural (Researching and organizing take a great deal of time.) If the two-part subjects are joined by or, nor, either . . . or, neither . . . nor, or not only . . . but also, the verb will agree with the subject closer to it. (The sparrows or the cardinal eats the seeds left on the snow. Since cardinal is singular and closer to the verb, the verb is singular. Either procrastination or many demands on my time prevent me from finishing the report. Since demands is plural and closer to the verb, the verb is plural.)
  3. The subject is an indefinite pronoun. See How do I avoid the most common pronoun mistake? for a list of indefinite pronouns. (Each has finished the assigned project. Each is singular and takes a singular verb, has finished.)

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