Saturday, June 6, 2009

Subject - Verb Agreement

Dear Readers,

Subiect-Verb Agreement is yet another slippery area for ESL learners . What is subject-verb agreement? This simple rule can be stated as follows :

" The verb shall agree with the subject in number and in person"

It sounds so simple! Doesn't it ? The problem for most ESL learners is to determine which word or words constitute the subject of the senntence . then they have to determine the number of the subject , whether the subject is singular or plural . The problem is complicated by the fact that number is sometimes determined by meaning and sometimes by form! Take this sentence as an example
More than one student has been chosen for the scholarship.
The singular verb has is bound to confuse ESL learners . The subject is definitely a plural one as far as meaning goes . It is a case where number is determined by form rather than by meaning . Now look at this sentence

"One of the boys has been chosen for the awars"

the verb has agrees with the subject "one of the boys" , and this is a case where number is determined by meaning .

Collective Nounns like committee , jury couple ,team etc constitute another source of confusion for ESL learners . These nouns are sometimes singular and sometimes plural , depending on the way the speaker perceives them . Thus committee can be singular when the speaker perceives it as a body of persons working together in unison , and it can be plural when he perceives it as a body of persons divided . Look at these examples
The committee has submitted its report to the government
The committee are divided in their findings

It would seem that the tendency of the native speakers of English is to use a singular verb unless there is a strong case for treating the subject as plural Take for example the proverb
Time and tide waits for no man

The singular verb waits suggests that the words time and tide constitute a single subject , They have the same contextual meaning. . Tey are united in one overwhelming aspect - they do not wait for anybody . The singularity of the subject is reinforced by alliteration . Take another example

Slow and steady wins the race

The singularity of the subject is again reinforced by alliteration .
Thus the English language makes creative use of the principle of subject-verb agreement. to enrich the meaning of discourses.

I will discuss the various aspects of subject-verb agreement in my next posts

Thank you


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