Sunday, February 7, 2010

Subject-Verb Concord : A New Perspective

Subject - Verb Concord may not be a problem for native speakers of English .They have their instincts to trust to .! But it is a major problem area for ESL learners . The crux of the problem lies in the fact that English sometimes bases its concord on meaning and sometimes on form which can be confusing to learners . They do not know whether to follow form or meaning . Thus in the sentence

One of the books is missing .

the learner can follow meaning and choose the singular verb is .But in the sentence

More than one book is missing .

the learner has to follow form in the face of the fact that the subject is undeniably plural and choose the singular verb is.

I think that the form-meaning conflict can be put aside if the instructors train the learners to look upon the subject as a complex consisting of a Noun Phrase with a headword along with its modifiers . Instead of subject- verb concord , the learnershould think of subjectNP headword-verb concord and view the problem of concord in a new way . Then he can forget about meaning- form conflict ! This will obviate the problem to a great extent .

I will discuss specific examples to illustrate the new perspective

1 One of the books is missing .

Here the subject NP consists of the headword one and the prepositional phrase "of the books" . , post-modifying it . The verb naturally agrees with the headword one

2 More than one book is missing .

The subject NP consists of the headword bookwhich is pre-modified by "more than one". The form-meaning conflict need not bother us . The concept of headword- verb concord has made it irrelevant !

3 Many a ship has sunk in the sea .

The subject NP '"many a ship" has ship as its headword . and " many a " as its pre-modifier . Hence,the singular verb has

4 Ship after ship has sunk in this bay .

The headword ship is post-modified by "after ship" and the verb agrees with the singular head , despite the plural sense of the subject as a whole .

5 John or his friends are responsible for this.

As or is a co-ordinating conjunction the head of the NP could be John or his friends ( a case of multiple heads). and the verb could agree with any of them . Proximity is a strong attraction and the verb agrees with the subject nearer to it than with the one farther to it ! .In subjects joined by correlative conjunction either---or and neither---nor we can see proximity concord similar to this .

6 None of them is responsible for this .

The subject NP ''none of them" consists of the head none " and the post-modifier 'of them" .Hence, the singular verb is . The NPs neither of them and either of them follow the same pattern .

7 The President , along with his wife, has left for the US.

Along with his wife is a post-modifier of the head President It does not fully coordinate with the head like and , and so the verb agrees with the singular head .Similar examples are quasi-coordinators like together with, as well as, rather than , as much as etc .

The learner should realize that learning concord on the basis of meaning-form conflict can be absolutely confusing Let him view the problem in a new light .

NB . cases of concord not discussed above can be decided on the basis of meaning

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