Friday, January 21, 2005

Make and Subject Verb Agreement

In class, we were working on subject verb agreement when we came across a sentence like

She makes him work harder.

From the sentence we can see that makes agrees with the pronoun she (3rd person singular). The question was what about the verb work? We do not have to worry about subject verb agreement with the verb after make.

Make is one of three verbs called causative verbs, that act in this way. These other verbs are have and let.

She makes her try. (causes her to try)
She has her fix her hair. (causes her to fix her hair)
He lets her drive his car. (allows her to drive his car)

The structure is Subject + Verb + Object + Verb + (Adverb or Adjective or Noun Phrase or Clause).

I think that the second verb is actually an infinitive without the to for two reasons. When we restate the sentence in another way as in causes or lets her, we have to use an infinitive form as in to try, to fix, to drive. Another reason it seems to be an infinitive is that the other causative verbs are followed by infinitives.

She gets him to work for her.
She allows him to return late.
She convinces him to stay home.

A list of causative verbs of this second type is: let, help, allow, have, require, allow, motivate, get, make, convince, hire, assist, encourage, permit, employ, force. The list comes from The Guide to Grammar and Writing.

The structure for these verbs differs only in the use of the preposition to.
Subject + Verb + Object + to + Verb + (Adverb or Adjective or Noun Phrase or Clause).

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Subject-Verb Agreement (3)

I recently saw a general rule for subject-verb agreement. The rule is put the s with the noun when it is plural, with the verb when the noun is singular except with I.


The artist draws well with charcoal. (singular subject)
The artists draw well with charcoal. (plural subject)

This is a good rule for nouns that are regular in forming plurals. It also covers the countable nouns because they do not have a plural form so they will have an s on the verb.


The rice is ready so we can eat.
Activity is what you need.

Collective nouns (class, government, family, jury, committee, group, couple, or team) are usually singular.

The class begins at noon.
Government is a necessity though sometimes not desirable.

Note that on occasion when the group is thought of as individuals, and the writer wants to emphasize disagreement or differences, then the noun can be used as a plural.

The family are teachers and government employees.
The committee feel they can not make a decision at this time.

There are several nouns that form their plurals differently. These can be found here. These nouns in the plural form will not be followed by a verb with the s.

Children play in the park until dark.
The women sing well together.

So the rule works well with nouns that form regular plurals. It also works well with most pronouns except the pronoun I mentioned above. I is singular but does not require an s on verbs.

A group of pronouns also can cause problems. These are the indefinite pronouns, which include some pronouns that can be either singular or plural depending on the noun they refer to. By that I mean that if the noun is countable, the indefinite pronoun can be plural. These include the pronouns (all, any, most, none, and some).

The milk is fresh. All is ready for drinking right now.
The artists are present. All are ready to show their work.

This group of pronouns includes some pronouns that are plural (both, several, many, others, more).

Both boys are tired.
Several girls have come to the game.
Others are absent.
Some people ride bicycles. More drive cars.

Also, there are several words that look plural but are singular (news, politics, economics, civics, measles, mumps, physics, statistics, and mathematics.)

At the Purdue OWL site, they point out that dollars causes some difficulties. When dollars follows a number, in other words, there is an amount of money, the verb is singular.

Five dollars is enough to pay for the ring.

But when dollars is used alone to refer to the money, it is plural.

Dollars are needed to buy that.

Words like trousers, scissors, tweezers, shears, pants, and shorts are plural.

In summary, a simple rule like put the s with the noun when it is plural, with the verb when the noun is singular except with I looks good, but in English (as usual) there are some exceptions to keep in mind.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Subject-Verb Agreement (2)

Another problem that can arise in identifying subjects is when the subject is separated from the verb by phrases or clauses.

The women who drove the trucks are now asleep in the hotel.

Women is the subject of are, but they (the women) are also the subject of drove because the relative pronoun who refers to women. Consequently, both drove and are have to agree with the subject, women.

Textbooks often discuss the fact that many words can be used between the subject and the verb as we saw above with the relative clause and the prepositional phrases.

Driving to Miami from Gainesville takes several hours.

The women who drove the trucks are now asleep in the hotel.

In the first case, the prepositional phrases come between the subject and the verb. In the second case, the relative clause (adjective clause) comes between the subject and the verb.

In each case, we can examine the sentence, locate the verb and look for the subject of the verb. In the first case, only driving is left as a possible subject after we remove the prepositional phrases.

Driving ... takes several hours.

This sentence is not very informative, but it is stripped down to subject and verb phrase to illustrate my point. In the other sentence, we can do the same thing.

The women who drove the trucks are now asleep in the hotel.

If we remove the adjective clause, we have a simpler sentence:

The women are now asleep in the hotel.

Another way to approach this problem of identifying the subject is to identify the verbs and identify the subjects of the verbs.

The women who drove the trucks are now asleep in the hotel.

Drove is our first verb. The relative pronoun who doesn’t tell us very much. With relative pronouns, we should identify the reference for the pronoun. So who is the subject, and who refers back to women. The verb has to agree with the subject, women.

Are is our second verb. Now we need to work backward. First, we eliminate the adjective clause. That leaves us with women as the only noun in front of the verb and thus the subject.

To summarize, we can approach the problem of identifying the subject and verb by beginning with the subject or by beginning with the verb. Identifying the subject and the verb will help us make our decisions about subject-verb agreement.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Subject-Verb Agreement

In working on subject-verb agreement, we begin by identifying the subject and the verb. Looks easy when I write it, but it isn’t always so easy in practice.

Subjects are usually nouns or pronouns.

Tom dives into the pool with no fear.

He dives from the diving board.

The car sits in the driveway.

In these cases, the subject is relatively easy to find. It is close to the verb and is a noun or a pronoun.

Now there are cases where a noun comes in front of the verb but it is not the subject.

In the driveway sits my new car.

In this example driveway is a noun, but driveway is the object of the preposition in. When a noun follows a preposition it can not be the subject of a sentence. The phrase, In the driveway, is a prepositional phrase showing location. In this sentence, the subject, car, follows the verb.

Gerunds and infinitives are two groups that can function as subjects and can be difficult to identify. A gerund is an –ing form of a word that functions as a noun.

Swimming is good exercise.

Driving to Miami from Gainesville takes several hours

In these two sentences swimming and driving are the subjects. The first one seems a little more obvious than the second one. It looks like the sentence.

Milk is a nutritious drink.

Driving though at first may not seem quite as obvious but remember that a noun in a prepositional phrase can not be a subject. Since to Miami and from Gainesville are both prepositional phrases, neither Miami or Gainesville can be subjects in this sentence.

Infinitives function as nouns also. Infinitives are to and the simple present form of the verb. (Infinitives as subjects are not very common in writing because they may seem awkward.)

To succeed takes work.

The subject of takes is to succeed.

Both infinitives and gerunds are singular and in the third person, so they require the singular verb form, that is, the addition of s to the verb.

To summarize, nouns, pronouns, gerunds, and infinitives can all serve as subjects. Only nouns and pronouns can be either singular and plural.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Too and Very

Too and very are intensifiers that express different ideas about the words they modify.

They have too many children. (They can not provide for all of the children.)

They have very many children. (They have a large number of children.)

Too is used to express the idea of more than is needed, wanted, or desirable.

He is too loud.

She is too tired.

Very expresses the idea of a large amount or a high degree. Very is often used for emphasis.

He has very many CDs.

She earned very good grades.

She drives very fast.

Monday, January 03, 2005


Sometimes the word damage is misused when the writer should use either harm, injure, or hurt.

Damage has several meanings that include the idea of changing something for the worse, changing the integrity or value of something, doing something legally wrong to someone, or the cost of something.

My car was damaged in the wreck. (changing something for the worse)

She damaged her knee in the game.(changing the integrity of something)

Her lies damaged his reputation. (to affect negatively)

The damage comes to $498. (This is an idiomatic use and not usually used in formal writing).

Harm shares two senses with damage but has one that differs which is physical injury.


She harmed her knee in the game. (changing the integrity of something)

Her lies harmed his reputation. (to affect negatively)


The broken glass harmed his foot. (physical injury)

Injure includes two senses that are similar to damage and harm, that is to affect negatively but includes one meaning it shares with harm.


She injured her knee in the game. (changing the integrity of something)

Her lies injured his reputation. (to affect negatively).

Shares only with harm

The broken glass injured his foot. (wound)

The senses come from

From these examples, it looks like damage has several meanings which makes it a good word to use with something that is negative and causes some type of change to something. However, when we write about a physical wound or a physical injury to a person’s body, then harm, injure, or hurt work better.

Damage does not refer to the wound, but it does describe something that is more long term and usually means an injury or hurt that results in a change in the body part or parts.

So I can injure my knee in a game. This injury becomes damage when my knee is negatively affected so that it causes pain or doesn’t work as well after the injury occurred.