Column: Let’s agree to agree


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

You only have to look as far as your social media feed to realize people disagree over just about everything in our current climate. He’s a crook! She’s a liar! You’re crazy! And that’s among friends. It seems like the only thing we can agree on is we can’t agree on anything.

In an effort to help us see eye to eye on something, let’s discuss subject-verb agreement. Making mistakes on your subject-verb agreement is the quickest way to come across as a grammar amateur. A singular noun needs a singular verb to accompany it, and a plural noun takes a plural verb.

One of the easiest ways to get our subject and verb agreement crisscrossed is when other words or phrases come between them. Most of the time, this comes in the form of prepositional phrases. This collection of presidential toenail clippings belongs in the Smithsonian. In this sentence, “collection” is the subject and “belongs” is the verb. Collection is singular, as is belongs. Don’t be tempted to change the verb “belongs” to “belong” because of “toenail clippings,” since “toenail clippings” is part of the prepositional phrase “of presidential toenail clippings.”

When it comes to subjects that are indefinite pronouns—which include someone, nobody, anything, each and either—these words are all singular nouns. You can treat any of these indefinite pronouns just like you would he, she and it. For example, each of my pet porcupines hates broccoli. The subject “each” is singular, so it takes the singular verb “hates.” Like taking care of porcupines, these rules can prove prickly to master!

Finally, you’ve got to know what to do with all-too-common sneaky verbs like “have,” “do” and “be.” Use “has” if your subject is a singular noun or a third-person singular pronoun: He has 19 potatoes. If your subject is plural or is the pronoun I, you, they or we, use have: I have only one potato; they have several.

In the same way, use “does” if your subject is a singular noun or a third-person singular pronoun: She does goat yoga. If your subject is plural or is the pronoun I, you, they or we, use “do.”

The verb “be” takes three different irregular forms in the present tense: is, are and am. “Is” is singular; “are” is plural. Only use “am” with the pronoun “I.”

I think we can all agree that subject-verb agreement is complicated, but, if we all learn these grammar rules, we can all have something in common.


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