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What is a verb?
A verb is a ‘doing word’. It expresses the carrying out of action.
With an active verb, the action is carried out by the subject.
- It stands.
- I am.
- He adjudicates between the parties concerned.
- Alfred burnt the cakes.
With a passive verb, the action is carried out upon the subject.
- The cakes were burnt by Alfred.
- The Bible is read in many languages.
Subject–Verb Agreement Rules
Two or more singular subjects connected by ‘and’ usually take a verb in the plural.
- Hari and Rama are there.
If two singular nouns refer to the same person or thing, the verb must be singular.
- My friend and benefactor has come.
A verb must agree with its subject in number and person. Often due to ‘Error of Proximity’, the verb is made to agree in number with a noun near it instead of with its proper subject.
- The quality of the mangoes were not good. (Wrong since the subject is quality, a singular, not mangoes.)
The quality of the mangoes was not good (Correct).
- His knowledge of Indian vernaculars are far beyond the common. (Incorrect)
His knowledge of Indian vernaculars is far beyond the common. (Correct)
When words are joined to a singular subject by ‘with’, ‘together with’, ‘in addition to’, ‘as well as’, then also number of the verb remains singular.
- The Chief with all his men, was massacred.
- The chairman, with the directors, is to be present.
- Silver, as well as cotton, has fallen in prices.
If two subjects together express one idea, the verb may be in the singular.
- The horse and the carriage is at the door.
- Bread and Butter are essential for one’s life. (Incorrect)
Bread and Butter is essential for one’s life. (Correct)
‘each’, ‘each one’, ‘either’, ‘neither’, ‘everyone’, ‘everybody’, ‘anyone’, ‘anybody’, ‘nobody’, ‘somebody’, ‘someone’, ‘many a’, and ‘no one’ must be followed by a singular verb.
- Neither of the two men was very strong.
- Everyone of the prisons is full.
- Many a man has done so.
- I will offer a $10 gift card to everybody who participates in the study.
- He asked whether either of the applicants was suitable.
When two or more subjects joined by ‘or’, ‘nor’, ‘either… or’, ‘neither…nor’ are of different persons, the verb agrees in person with the nearest one.
- Neither he nor I was there.
- No nook or corner was left unexplored.
- Our happiness or our sorrow is largely due to our own actions.
- Either he or I am mistaken.
- Neither you nor he is to blame.
- Neither Rekha nor her fiends was present at the party. (Incorrect)
Neither Rekha nor her friends were present at the party. (Correct)
When a plural noun denotes some specific quantity or amount considered as a whole, the verb is generally singular.
- One hundred paise is equal to one rupee.
- Six miles is a long distance.
- Fifty thousand rupees is a large sum.
- Five hours are too short a time to judge one’s character. (Incorrect)
Five hours is too short a time to judge one’s character. (Correct)
This is so because five hours is considered as one chunk.
Two nouns qualified by each or every, even though connected by ‘and’ require a singular verb.
- Every boy and every girl was given a packet of sweets.
‘None’ though singular commonly takes a plural verb.
- None are so deaf as those who will not hear.
The verb lay (lay, laid, laid) is transitive and is always followed by an object. The verb lie (lie, lay, lain) is intransitive and cannot have an object.
- Lay the child to sleep.
- Let me lie here.
- I laid the book on the table.
Uncountable nouns take a singular verb.
- Education is the key to success.
- Diabetes affects many people around the world.
- The information obtained from the business owners was relevant to include in the study.
- The research I found on the topic was limited.
Some countable nouns in English such as earnings, goods, odds, surroundings, proceeds, contents, and valuables only have a plural form and take a plural verb.
- The earnings for this quarter exceed expectations.
- The proceeds from the sale go to support the homeless population in the city.
- Locally produced goods have the advantage of shorter supply chains.
In sentences beginning with “there is” or “there are,” the subject follows the verb. Since “there” is not the subject, the verb agrees with what follows the verb.
- There is little administrative support.
- There are many factors affecting teacher retention.
Collective nouns are words that imply more than one person but are considered singular and take a singular verb. Some examples are ‘group’, ‘team’, ‘committee’, ‘family’, and ‘class’.
- The group meets every week.
- The committee agrees on the quality of the writing.
Tell which sentence is correct?
- Put in to bat first, a huge total was expected from India.
- Put in to bat first, India was expected to pile up a huge total.
Now: who has been put in to bat first? A huge total of India? Common sense tells us it must be India. But sentence 1, as it stands, appears otherwise. So, sentence 2 is correct.
- Being a rainy day, I decided to take my umbrella.
- It being a rainy day, I decided to take my umbrella.
The sentence 1, as it stands, gives us the impression that being a rainy day qualifies ‘I’. This is simply not true. I am not a rainy day. So, sentence 2 is correct.
The following examples exemplify the common mistakes committed.
- His diet was abstemious, his prayers long and fervent. (Incorrect as subjects are not in the same number.)
His diet was abstemious, his prayers were long and fervent. (Correct)
- He never has and never will, take such strong measures. (Incorrect)
He never has taken, and never will take, such strong measures. (Correct)
- Ten new members have been enrolled and seven resigned (Incorrect)
Ten new members have been enrolled and seven have resigned. (Correct)
- Being a very hot day, I remained in my tent. (Wrong as participle being is referring to none)
It being a very hot day, I remained in my tent. (Correct)
- Sitting on the gate, a scorpion stung him. (Incorrect as participle sitting is not referring to any word)
While he was sitting on the gate, a scorpion stung him (Correct)