When we speak, the different parts of the sentences we produce must relate to one another very well for what we say to be meaningful. This is, especially, so in the relationship between the subject of a sentence and the verb (popularly referred to as Subject-Verb Agreement or Concord); a relationship which must be marked by agreement in person and number – this is what we are here to review.
The subject of a sentence, which is either a noun, noun phrase or a pronoun, determines the agreement or concord to the verb according to its own number. Thus for example, the noun – “Maryann” – which is the subject in the sentence below must agree with the verb “eat” in person and number.
‘Maryann eats the apple’ but not ‘Maryann eat the apple’
In the sentence above, because the noun ‘Maryann’ is third person (used in reported speech when talking about the doer) and singular in number, the verb must also be in the third person singular which is indicated as ‘eats’. Other examples are given below:
- The teachers run daily: (teachers – third person plural, must go with ‘run’ – a plural verb)
- The teacher runs daily: (teacher – third person singular, must go with ‘runs’ – a singular verb)
- We eat the apples: (We – first person plural, must go with ‘eat’ – a plural verb)
- I eat the apples: (I – first person singular, must go with ‘eat’ – a plural verb)
- They eat the apples: (They – third person plural, must go with ‘eat’ – a plural verb)
- You and I eat the apples: (Double subject must go with plural form ‘eat’)
The samples given above are what we refer to as grammatical concord.
Notional Concord has to do with the number of form of the noun rather than its grammatical number. It includes the following:
(i) Collective Nouns: ‘committee’, ‘team’ and ‘police’: which are collective nouns and they may take either singular or plural verbs depending on the notion in which they are used in a sentence. See the following examples:
a. The committee have decided to recommend him for promotion.
b. The committee has decided to recommend him for promotion.
In (a), the commitee is taken as individual members whereas in (b) the commitee is taken as a single body. Other examples include:
c. The team are playing Liverpool tomorrow.
d. The team is playing Liverpool tomorrow.
e. The government have decided to increase workers’ wages.
f. The government has decided to increase workers’ wages.
(ii) Conjoined Subjects: that is, two or more nouns or pronouns joined in the position of the subject which constitute notional units and are treated as singular. For example:
a. Apple pie and cheese is what I had in the morning.
b. Bread and butter is healthy for breakfast.
c. The aim and objective of the study is to expose fraud.
(iii) Plural Amounts: These are usually treated as singular:
a. Ten million naira is a huge sum.
b. There is a thousand dollars in the drawer.
(iv) Apparent Plurals: such as ‘news’, ‘United States’ and ‘Commonwealth of Independent States’ are always singular:
a. The Unites States is making progress with alternative fuel research.
b. The Commonwealth of Independent States has decided to join EU.
c. The news from Iran is that many protesters have been arrested and they are being taken to jail.
Apart from grammatical and notional concord, we also have proximity concord. This happens in a sentence in which the first noun after the verb determines the concord or agreement. For example:
a. There is a girl and two boys in the class.
Also, in conjoined subjects with ‘either… or’, ‘neither…nor’ the latter element (the subject close to the verb) decides the concord. Let’s check the following:
b. Either Ojo or I am missing the point.
c. Neither Bello nor Brai was in the team.
d. It was not only Christiana but also Fatima was running away.
e. Neither Bello nor the boys were seen around the house.
f. Either Ojo or the teachers are missing the point.
When sentences have two subjects or conjoined nouns or noun phrases with ‘both’…’and”, the subject is plural and therefore the verb is plural as in:
- (i) Both Jack and Jill are ready to carry the blame.
- (ii) Both Ade and Ola walk along.
They are usually connected by conjunctions, take plural verbs. However, a compound subject will take a singular verb if its different parts form a unit. Let us look at the following:
a. The Managing Director and CEO is arriving tomorrow. (One and the same person)
b. The President, with the Vice-President is attending the G-8 Summit.
c. Chizea, as well as Azu, has gone to Jerusalem on pilgrimage.
d. Chizea, as well as Azu, was inside the hall.
e. The teacher, in collaboration with the coach, has kept the trophy.
f. The teacher, in collaboration with the coach, was training the team.
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Some Peculiar Words that Serve as Subjects
Certain words such as ‘each’, ‘one’, ‘no one’, ‘nobody’, ‘neither’, ‘few’, ‘many’ and ‘several’ require specific verb forms in concord construction:
- a. Each of the boys is entitled to a cow. (Individuality)
- b. Each of the boys tries to listen.
- c. One of them runs the shop.
- d. No one moves around at 11pm.
- e. One of them has a shop.
- f. No one has the temerity to move around at 11pm.
- g. Everybody bears the burden of work.
- h. Everybody has to work hard.
- i. Nobody cares about the militants’ threat.
- j. Neither of us was capable of chewing the stone.
- k. He says few men have succeeded in reaching the moon.
- l. Few of the sailors were in the boat when it drowned.
- m. Several of the soldiers were jailed for mutiny.
- n. Many tadpoles grow to become frogs.
- o. Many of the tadpoles have grown to become frogs.
Pronoun – Noun Phrase Agreement.
Pronouns must agree in person and number with their antecedents (that is, the noun they refer to) to avoid repetition. This is one area that tends to constitute some problems for non-native speakers. Let us check the following sentences:
- a. Matthew searches for his pen in the bag. (his = Matthew’s)
- b. Jacob spoke to his sons and they listened to him. (his and him = Jacob)
- c. The seamstress was seen at the Mall where she went t buy some dresses for her daughter. (she = seamstress)
- d. The students were looking out for the worms their teacher had asked them to collect for biology experiment. (them – the students)
- e. We told the police that the bottle of gin was ours. (ours = we)
- f. One’s goal is to do it for oneself. (oneself = one)
We hope this is helpful. You can take an English UTME Quiz below or get related Books.
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