Avoiding Common Subject-Verb Agreement Mistakes with Pronouns

Although making your subjects and verbs agree is pretty easy in English, there are a few common mistakes people make when the subjects of the sentences are pronouns. For example, five pronouns change from singular to plural because of the prepositional phrases that follow them:

  • any

  • all

  • most

  • none

  • some

Here they are with some prepositional phrases and verbs. Notice how the prepositional phrase affects the verb number.

Singular Plural
any of the information is any of the magazines are
all of the pie is all of the shoes are
most of the city is most of the pencils are
none of the pollution is none of the toenails are
some of the speech is some of the politicians are

See the pattern? For these five words, the prepositional phrase is the determining factor. If the phrase refers to a plural idea, the verb is plural. If the phrase refers to a singular idea, the verb is singular.

Here and there you find problems

A variation on unusual word order is a sentence beginning with here or there.

Here is the baby parakeet that just bumped his head on the window.
There are no flying schools for birds.

As you see, the words here and there aren’t italicized. These words are never subjects! The true subject in this type of sentence comes after the verb, so that's where you look when you’re making a subject-verb match.

The ones, the things, and the bodies

The following pronouns delight in mischief-making:

  • The ones: one, everyone, someone, anyone, no one

  • The things: everything, something, anything, nothing

  • The bodies: everybody, somebody, anybody, nobody

These pronouns are always singular, even if they’re surrounded by prepositional phrases that express plurals. These pronouns must be matched with singular verbs. Take a look at these examples:

So everybody is happy because no one has caused any trouble, and anything goes.
Anyone in the pool of candidates for dogcatcher speaks better than Lulu.
One of the million reasons to hate you is your tendency to split infinitives.
Not one out of a million spies creates as much distraction as George.

Each and every mistake is painful

Each and every are very powerful words; they’re strong enough to change any subject following them into a singular idea. Sneak a peek at these examples:

Each shoe and sock is in need of mending, but Larry refuses to pick up a needle and thread.
Every dress and skirt in that store is on sale, and Lulu’s in a spending mood.

Do these sentences look wrong to you? Granted, they appear to have plural subjects: two things (shoe and sock) in sentence one, and another two things (dress and skirt) in sentence two. But when each or every is placed in front of a group, you take the items in the group one at a time. In the first sample sentence, the subject consists of one shoe, one sock, another shoe, another sock, and so on. Therefore, the sentence needs a singular verb to match the singular subject. Ditto for the dress and skirt reference in the second example.

Either and neither: Alone or with partners

Two more pain-in-the-pick-your-body-part pronouns are either and neither, when they’re without their partners or and nor. When they’re alone, either and neither are always singular, even if you insert a huge group (or just a group of two) between them and their verbs. Hence

Either of the two armies is strong enough to take over the entire planet.
Neither of the football captains has shown any willingness to accept Lola as quarterback.

Because the sample sentences are about armies and captains, you may be tempted to choose plural verbs. Resist the temptation! No matter what the sentence says, if the subject is either or neither, singular is the correct way to go.

When either and neither appear with their best buds, or and nor, two things happen. First, either and neither turn into conjunctions (joining words). Second, if they’re joining two subjects, the subject that is closer to the verb determines whether the verb is singular or plural. Yes, that’s right! This is a grammar problem you can solve with a ruler. Check out these examples:

Either Ella or her bridesmaids have eaten the icing on the cake. (bridesmaids = closest subject, a plural; have eaten = plural verb)
Neither the waiters nor Larry is planning to eat the leftovers. (Larry = closest subject, a singular; is planning = singular verb)

Most sentences that are questions have helping verbs, and the helpers are the part of the verb that changes. Never fear: this is still grammar by ruler. The subject closest to the part of the verb that changes governs the singular/plural decision. Take a look at these examples:

Does either Ella or her cousins want antacids? (Ella = subject closest to the helping verb does; Ella = singular subject, does want = singular verb)
Do neither her cousins nor Ella know how to cook? (cousins = subject closest to the helping verb do; cousins = plural subject, do know = plural verb)
  • Add a Comment
  • Print
  • Share
blog comments powered by Disqus
Advertisement

Inside Dummies.com

Dummies.com Sweepstakes

Win $500. Easy.