You know that in order to have a sentence you need a subject and a verb. If these two most basic parts of a sentence don't agree, then your sentence has basic problems. Subjects and verbs must agree in number and in person. Both subject and verb must be singular or both must be plural. If the subject is in the third person, so must be the verb ("He knows." vs. "I know."). Sometimes identifying the subject itself is difficult when words intervene between the subject and the verb or when the verb precedes the subject. At other times deciding whether the subject is singular or plural is difficult.
I. Difficult Sentence Structures
A. Sentences with intervening elements:The letter with its several attachments was received this morning.
["attachments" is not the subject.]
His sworn statement, together with copies of the testimony and statements from others connected with the case, was made a part of the file.
[The parenthetical phrase has no effect on subject.]
Our letters, like our speech, are indications of our knowledge of English.
["speech" has no bearing on the verb.]
B. Sentences in which the verb precedes the subject:Walking down the hall are the men we are waiting for.
['men' is the subject here.]
From these books come some of our best ideas.
['some' is the subject.]
Where is the case filed?
['case' is the subject.]
Here are the messages for which we were waiting.
['messages' is the subject.]
There are two books on the table.
['books' is the subject.]
II. Difficult Subjects
A. Sentences with Indefinite Pronouns as the Subject:Neither of the plans is workable.
[Think 'neither one.']
Everyone of the students buys his or her own book.
[Emphasize the 'one' in 'everyone.']
Every student and teacher knows his or her homeroom.
[Think 'every single.']
Nothing escapes the ravages of time.
[Think 'not one thing.']
B. Sentences with Subjects joined by or or nor:Neither the headmaster nor the principals know whether snow will close the roads.
Neither the principals nor the headmaster knows whether snow will close the roads.
[The subject closer to the verb determines the number.]
III. Verb Agreement within Subordinate Clauses
The verbs inside subordinate clauses, such as adjective clauses, have to agree with the word they modify. For instance:Fred is one of those boys who love football.
['love' is plural because the clause - who love - modifies boys. Most people would mistakenly think that love was about Fred.]
Note this exception: Fred is the only one of those boys who loves football.
[Including 'only' changes the meaning so that Fred alone loves football. The sense, therefore, is singular.]
Note the following:
The 'Mary Jane' is one of those boats on the wharf that collapses in every storm.
[In this case the "that" clause refers to the wharf, not to the boats, and is singular.]
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