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.

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