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Knowing your singles or multiples

Subject/verb agreement is a simple concept yet seems one of the most complicated for people to grasp and use correctly.

The idea that singular goes with singular and plural needs plural is almost obvious, but separating singular from plural is not so self-evident.

I’m sure if asked, each of you would say that “there’s” means “there is”; and you would further acknowledge that “is” makes it singular. So why do we so often hear phrases such as: “There’s five cars parked out front,” or “I think there’s several answers to that question?” Cars and answers are both plural; they need “are” to precede them. We just need to stop and think when using “there’s.”

Sometimes words separate the subject and verb and get us off track of what we know is a singular subject. “Only one of his five friends are planning to go.” Since “one” is singular, the correct sentence would be: “Only one of his five friends is planning to go.”

In the sentence “Each of the children’s parents were reluctant,” each is singular, so it should be: “Each of the children’s parents was reluctant.”

“The last in these 10 rows of chairs have only five seats.” The last is just one, so it should say, has only five seats.

If you have difficulty picking out the singular and plural verbs, try “he,” “she” or “it” for singular, and “they” or “we” for plural (he lives, they live; he rides, they ride). Microsoft, Starbucks and Boeing hire technical graduates.

An exception to this is if items are linked together as a unit. If spaghetti and meatballs are seen as separate entities, they are delicious. If they are a combined unit, then spaghetti and meatballs is the main dish.

If the subject ends in “s” but is singular in meaning, the verb needs to be singular: “Mathematics prepares (singular) students for various careers.”

Indefinite pronouns (each, everyone, nothing, everything) need singular verbs: “Everyone is required to run a mile,” or “Nothing (meaning not one thing) on the shelves is worth money.”

When using paired conjunctions, such as neither/nor, the verb should match the noun closer to it: “Neither Sam nor his friends want to go” (both friends and want are plural) or “Neither his friends nor Sam wants to go.”

We all know the difference between singular and plural; we just need to stop, think and put the pieces together in matched pairs.

Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years. If you have grammar questions, email her at ifixgrammar@charter.net.