Dear reader, what I am about to share with you is very important and you need to pay attention. English as a Second Language Learners, especially in Nigeria, have major challenges when it comes to identifying the correct structural patterns or agreement among the syntactic elements of a sentence. I have, therefore, put together this post, Concord: Subject-Verb Agreement (Rules and Examples) to assist many in this category to be able to construct and speak grammatically correct statements.
There are many grammatical challenges that confront ESL learners on the issue of Concord and various questions arise on how to conform to the rules of grammaticality. Which type of subject goes with which type of verb? Is it possible to have a plural subject go with a singular verb? How does a plural verb look like? Does a collective noun take singular or plural verb? If two entities refer to one and the same person, do we use a singular or plural verb?
I have tried to address all these questions in this post. If you can understand concord in English, you have just understood the grammaticality of the English language and whatever you write or say would be infallible. Before showing you the different patterns of Concord that exist, let me attempt a definition or a description of the word: Concord.
What is Concord?
Another word for Concord is agreement. We need to know how the various elements of the English clause or sentence go together if we are to be competent users of the English language. Some items go along more readily with some other items while some cannot go together in usage. When items go with each i.e. when they agree, such items are in agreement or that there is concord between them.
Concord: Subject-Verb Agreement (Rules and Examples)
In grammar, therefore, we use the term agreement or concord o describe the relationship or correspondence among the forms of different elements within a sentence. E.g. between the subject-verb. In other words, Concord is the grammar match between grammatical elements: correspondence of the number, case, gender, or person of one word with that of another word, especially in the same sentence. Instances of Concord include the following:
The subject and verb of a sentence are in agreement when they have the same number and person. If the subject is singular, the verb will be singular. If the subject is plural, the verb will be plural. The Verb must be in agreement with the subject; a singular subject takes a singular verb while a plural subject takes a plural verb.
Rules of Concord
The rules of concord follow various patterns which we list below…
A singular subject requires a singular verb. Let us look at these examples:
- The novel is interesting.
- The driver has arrived.
- The news is hard to believe.
- Mathematics is a difficult subject for many students.
- Life was pleasant in the days of the oil boom.
- He does this regularly.
- The girl loves to sing.
A plural subject requires a plural verb. Consider these examples:
- The books are interesting.
- The teachers have arrived.
- His clothes were dirty.
- Some people love traditional music.
- The women are under arrest.
A compound singular subject takes plural verb as exemplified in the following sentences:
- The bride and the groom are here.
- The provost and his deputy have arrived.
- The man and his wife come here often.
- The book and the ruler were removed by unknown persons.
- James and Joe do their homework in the evening.
Compound plural subjects take plural verb as demonstrated in the sentences below:
- Doctors and nurses are needed at the health centre.
- The robbers and their leaders were arrested.
- Boys and girls have to work hard.
- Parents and teachers need to meet regularly.
- Many religious leaders and their followers were present at the rally.
However, there are exceptional cases to some of these patterns when it comes to the subject-verb agreement. Let us consider some of these exceptions:
When any of these words: with, along with, together with, as well as, in addition to, including, no less than, etc. joins a compound subject, the form of the verb is singular. That is, when we replace ‘and’ in Pattern 4 with any of the words listed above, the appropriate verb form is singular. See the following examples:
- The man with his wife is here.
- The boy together with his sister is attending the party.
- The husband, as well as his wife, was arrested.
- The goat in addition to the cow has disappeared.
- The goalkeeper no less than the defenders is to blame for the goal.
When a compound subject joined by ‘and’ gives the impression of a unit or when the two singular subjects refer to the same person or thing, we use the singular verb as we have in the following:
- Bread and butter is his favourite meal.
- His wife and greatest admirer gives him sound counsel.
- John’s friend and boss is very pleasant.
- The President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces has arrived.
- Rice and beans is good for lunch.
When we connect a compound subject (two or more singular subjects) with any of these words, or, either…or, neither…nor, not, but, not only, but also, we use the singular verb. Look at the following examples:
- John or Joe is going to the farm.
- Either John or Joe is to blame.
- Neither the boy nor the girl has a good report.
- Not the husband but the wife was given the award.
- Not only the teacher but also the student likes the beautiful building.
But when one of the subjects joined by any of the above items (the correlatives) differ in number; in other words, if one is singular and the other one is plural, the verb agrees in number with the nearer noun or subject. This is the principle of proximity. See the following examples:
- Neither the thieves nor their leader was arrested.
- Neither the leader nor the thieves were arrested.
- Not only the boy but his friends were present at the game.
A singular subject followed by a plural modifier requires a singular verb. Examples
- The reaction of the students was unexpected.
- The leader of the armed bandits is to be convicted today.
- A list of the successful applicants is out already.
Collective nouns (nouns which refers to a group of persons or things) take a singular or plural verb depending on our notion. When we consider the class or group as a unit, we use a singular verb. But we use a plural verb when we consider the members of the class as individuals or when we see them as acting individually. Examples of this instance include:
- The army is poorly paid.
- Our Pastor asked the congregation to stand.
- The clergy holds an annual retreat.
- His team is up to the task.
- The focus is on the group as a whole acting as a unit.
- The congregation were divided in their opinion about the minister.
- The committee are arguing over the choice of the new chairman.
- We got reports that the family are at loggerheads over the sharing of the money.
- The anthology sell more overseas.
- He agreed that the herd are difficult to control.
However, consistency is important in the use of the accompanying pronoun referents such as it or them.
Collective nouns followed by ‘of’ and a plural noun in such phrases as a collection of paintings, a pride of lions, a flock of sheep, etc. take a singular verb in Standard English. Examples include:
- A flock of sheep is in the garden.
- A collection of paintings is up for auction tomorrow.
- Do you know that a case of instruments has gone missing from the hospital?
- A host of angelic voices sings regularly in the concert.
- A swarm of bees is difficult to control.
Similarly the phrase ‘one of’ plus a plural noun such as teachers, babies, children, carpenters, etc. takes a singular verb. Examples include:
- One of the teachers likes rice and beans.
- You can call him that one of the girls is here.
- One of the children does not like biscuits.
Indefinite pronouns such as each, every, everybody, anyone, nobody, no one, none, etc. take a singular verb. Examples:
- Everybody is going to come.
- No one was exempted from the punishment.
- Nobody has seen the missing boat.
Some verbs are modified by auxiliaries like do, be, and have as in the following: do/does, cook, write, dance, jump, etc. when such auxiliary verbs come before the main verbs, it is the auxiliary which takes the singular form of the verb. E. g.
- She does cook.
- The man does visit often.
- The boy has arrived.
Numerals or Plural Numbers
Plural numbers take a singular verb when we use them in a phrase to indicate a sum or a unit. Examples include:
- Four years is the tenure of the president.
- Two million naira is a great deal of money to carry around.
- Ten percent is good interest.
- Forty hours is the normal work week in Nigeria.
- Fifteen minutes is enough for a coffee break.
Conventional Plural Words
Some nouns which are plural in form but singular in meaning take a singular verb. Examples of such words include: Economics, electronics, Mathematics, Linguistics, Physics, news, statistics, whereabouts, ethics, dynamics, semantics, trousers, scissors, etc.
Consider the following sentences in which we have such manifestations:
- No news is good news.
- Phonetics is an interesting subject.
- His whereabouts is a secret.
- Statistics is almost similar to Mathematics.
- Mathematics is a technical subject.
A pronoun must agree in number, gender, and case with its antecedent. What this statement means is that:
- A pronoun replacing a noun must agree in number as the noun it replaces.
- A pronoun replacing a noun must be masculine if the noun is masculine; feminine if the noun is feminine and neuter if the noun is neuter.
- A subject pronoun replaces a subject noun while an objective pronoun replaces a noun in the objective case too.
Let us expatiate on the positions above with illustrative examples:
- The teacher told the girl to write her
- The judges delivered their judgment this morning.
- The man stood his ground even though he was wrong.
- The lady sang so well that the audience gave her a standing ovation.
- My father is so strict that we did not dare to disobey him.
- When an old woman speaks, we should listen to her.
- The economy is not so buoyant, it needs urgent attention.
- The boys arrived last night, they did not come with their
- John called the girl, he asked her to stay at home.
- The lady works in Lagos, she comes to Ondo every weekend.
Shifts in Construction
Apart from immersing yourself in what is Concord, you also need to know that there must be no shifts at all in your grammatical constructions, especially when you are expressing a single idea.
In other words, what I am saying is that your sentences must be the same in person, number, voice, and tense; that is, there must be agreement or concord in your sentences in terms of person, number, voice, and tense.
Do not shift from one person to the other
Look at the following:
- *When you are confused, one doesn’t know what to do. (Incorrect)
- When you are confused, you don’t know what to do. (Correct)
- We love the harvest months because we have a lot to eat. (Correct)
- *They love the harvest months because we have a lot to eat. (Incorrect)
- *For one to pass that course, I must study diligently. (Incorrect)
- For me to pass that course, I must study diligently. (Correct)
Do not shift from one voice to another
See the following:
- *They praised the girl, but the boy was punished.
- *The course leader rushed into the classroom, looked around and was seated.
- *The driver was arrested but they released the passengers.
See correct way to render these sentences:
- They praised the girl but punished the boy. (Active voice)
- The course leader rushed into the classroom, looked around and sat. (Active voice)
- The driver was arrested but the passengers were released. (Passive voice)
Do not shift from one tense to another
See the following constructions:
- *He pressed the doorbell but there is no answer.
- *The man gave the girl some money, but she does not thank him.
The correct forms of these sentences are:
- He pressed the doorbell but there was no answer.
- The man gave the girl some money, but she did not thank him.
In order to ensure correctness and consistency when speaking or writing, you must pay attention to Concord, that is agreement among the elements of the sentence and ensure that you internalise all the rules and pattern.
Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, educator and one of the most influential figures in world history, once said:
If the language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and arts deteriorate; justice goes astray; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.
So ensure your language is correct if you want to be, not necessarily Confucius, but one of the most influential figures in world history! Share this post with your friends and send me your comments. I want to hear from you.