At a time when few agree about anything, subjects and verbs still have to.
Choose the correct word:
- $25,000 (is/are) a bit more than I can afford to pay for a parrot.
- Neither the students nor the teacher (was/were) sorry to hear the fire alarm.
- Neither my wife nor I (am/is) planning to go to the party.
- Neither of the clerks (is/are) able to remember the code number for fish lips.
- The captain, along with all the team members, (was/were) caught placing bets on the other team.
- Each and every dog and cat we saw at the animal shelter (was/were) grossly obese.
- Each of five clowns (likes/like) to swim for relaxation.
- The five clowns and their assistants each (hopes/hope) to get a raise.
- Melinda is one of those women who (prefers/prefer) comfortable shoes.
- Sam is the only one of those firemen who (doesn’t/don’t) lift weights.
Answers: 1. is 2. was 3. am 4. is 5. was 6. was 7. likes 8. hope 9. prefer 10. doesn’t
Our ear is often a good guide to subject/verb agreement. Few speakers make the mistake of saying, “I does.” A singular subject takes a singular verb, and plural subjects take plural verbs. Verbs that are used with he or she are singular; verbs that are used with we or they are plural: The boy (he) walks. The boys (they) walk. But sometimes choosing between a singular and plural verb can be tricky.
- Sums of money are always singular.
- When two subjects are joined by neither…nor or either…or, the subject closest to the verb determines whether it is singular or plural. Note that if we reverse the subjects, the verb is plural: Neither the teacher nor the students were sorry to hear the fire alarm.
- Here the choice is not between singular and plural, but between two singular verbs. Because the pronoun I is closest to the verb, the verb must be “am.” If the subjects are reversed, the verb becomes “is”: Neither I nor my wife is planning to go to the party.
- By itself neither is always singular and takes a singular verb. In this sentence neither, not clerks, is the subject.
- Captain is the singular subject. Intervening words such as “along with” and “together with” aren’t part of the subject. Two subjects joined by “and” require a plural verb: The captain and all the team members were caught…
- Each and every is wordy expression, but it is singular and requires a singular verb.
- In the construction ”each of,” each is the subject, and it is always singular despite the plural noun that follows: Each of the five thousand refugees has (not have) received aid.
- When each follows a compound subject, a plural verb is required.
- Here “who” refers to “women” and takes a plural verb. All the women prefer comfortable shoes, and Melinda is one of them.
- Here “who” refers to Sam and requires a singular verb. All the other firemen lift weights; only Sam doesn’t.