Agreement with Compound Subjects: A Guide for Writers and Editors
One of the most common mistakes in writing is the use of incorrect subject-verb agreement, particularly with compound subjects. A compound subject is a sentence element that includes two or more nouns or pronouns connected by a coordinating conjunction (such as and, or, or nor) that function as a single unit. In this article, we will explore the rules and best practices for achieving proper agreement with compound subjects.
Rule 1: Plural Subjects Take Plural Verbs
When two or more subjects are joined by “and,” the verb must be in the plural form. For example:
– Sarah and John are going to the party.
– The dog and the cat are playing in the park.
– Tom, Jerry, and Lucy are studying for the exam.
In all of these examples, the verb agrees with the plural subject.
Rule 2: Singular Subjects Take Singular Verbs
When the subjects are joined by “or,” “either…or,” “neither…nor,” the verb agrees with the subject that is closest to it. For example:
– Either the cat or the dog is responsible for the mess.
– Neither the teacher nor the students are happy with the new rules.
– The president or the CEO is expected to attend the meeting.
In these examples, the singular verb agrees with the closest subject.
Rule 3: Indefinite Pronouns Take Singular Verbs
Indefinite pronouns like “each,” “every,” “anyone,” “everyone,” and “somebody” are always singular and, therefore, require singular verbs. For example:
– Each of the students is responsible for his or her own work.
– Everybody in the room was clapping their hands.
– Someone has left their bag on the table.
In the third example, the agreement is incorrect because “someone” is singular, but “their” is plural.
Best Practices for Copy Editors
As a copy editor, your job is to ensure that the text you are editing is grammatically correct, easy to read, and free of errors. Here are a few best practices for achieving proper agreement with compound subjects:
– Identify compound subjects in the sentence and ensure that the verb agrees with the subject(s).
– Pay attention to the coordinating conjunctions used in the sentence and make sure they are used properly.
– Check for indefinite pronouns and ensure that they are paired with singular verbs.
– Be mindful of subject-verb agreement errors that may occur when two or more nouns or pronouns are separated by a prepositional phrase or another modifying phrase.
In conclusion, proper subject-verb agreement with compound subjects is essential to clear and effective writing. By understanding the rules and best practices outlined in this article, writers and editors can avoid common errors and ensure that their communication is grammatically correct and easy to read.