Home FAQs Subject_Verb Subject - Verb Agreement
Subject - Verb Agreement

Q: Perhaps you can help me determine which of the following two sentences is grammatically correct:

a) As a literacy tutor, Mary has volunteered her time to helping adult students learn English in order to achieve their career aspirations.
Or
b) As a literacy tutor, Mary has volunteered her time to help adult students learn English in order to achieve their career aspirations.

Helping or help? Why?

A: You have asked a great question. Both examples are correct for different reasons.

Example #1:  "To" is used as a preposition, To what did Mary volunteer? To  helping adult students. "Helping," which looks like a verb, is actually used as a noun (we call verbs-used-as-nouns  gerunds) and functions as the object of the preposition "to." A preposition has to have an object, and an object has to be a noun or pronoun.

Example #2. "To" is used with a verb to form the infinitive to help. (An infinitive is the verb form constructed with the word "to.")To help what or whom? To help adult students. Here the object of "to help" is "adult students."

It's the difference between "helping" being used as a noun and "help" being used as a verb..While both are correct. the second example, to me,  is smoother.


Question:
Which is correct?
A. Each editor has a list of guidelines that has been prepared.
B. Each editor has a list of guidelines that have been prepared.

Answer:
Logic dictates that it’s the singular noun list (singular) that has been prepared – so has is correct. Because the word guidelines is located in a prepositional phrase (of guidelines), it does not count when determining the number of the subject.


Question:
Is it:
Neither Bob nor Cathy were sure of their company’s policy on sexual harassment.  or Neither Bob nor Cathy was sure of their company’s policy on sexual harassment.

Answer:
Was is correct. The rule: When a compound subject is joined by either…or or neither…nor, the verb agrees with the part of the subject closer to it; in this case, the singular word Cathy.


Question:
"There is intense intimacy and heart-wrenching emotions." Is or are?

Answer:
Are is correct – but not entirely pleasing. The structure is awkward because the compound subject (intimacy + emotions) comes after the verb.
Better to revise: Intense intimacy and heart-wrenching emotions heighten the drama of the film.


Question:
In this sentence is it "is" not permitted or "are" not permitted? I'm a bit perplexed. It is the policy of ABC Savings Bank that smoking and the use of tobacco products (includes, but is not limited to cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff and pipe smoking) is not permitted by anyone on any property owned or leased by ABC Savings Bank.

Answer:
Because you use the word “and” after “smoking,” you create a plural subject so “are” is correct.  You could write: It is the policy of ABC Savings Bank that the use of tobacco products is not permitted. Use includes, but is not limited to, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, snuff and pipe-smoking.


Question:
Do we say “40 cubic yards of contaminated soil were excavated” or “was excavated?” I can’t remember which part controls the number, “yards” or “soil.”
Answer:
“Yards” is the plural subject, and “were” is the verb you want. In general, do not look into a prepositional phrase to determine the number of the subject. But the question is interesting because certain amounts used as amounts are indeed considered singular subjects: “Ten acres is considered a small piece of property in this area.”  But when the same subject is used in any other sense, the verb is plural: “Ten acres were plowed today.”


Question:
Is there a single rule I can apply to the following examples?
One in five students was/were retained.
More than one in five students was/were retained.
Fewer than/nearly one in five students was/were retained.
Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Answer:
You would be justified in considering the word “one” to be the operative subject word in each case. Hence each of these sentences has a singular subject and the verb choice should be “was.”


 

Question:
In the following pair, I want to use the first option, as it feels right to me, but I cannot explain why. I must admit that the second option seems to be the obvious correct answer.
a. Most important was a, b and c.
b. Most important were a, b and c.

Answer:
The correct version is b. You've inverted the sentence so the plural subject (a ,b and c) follows the verb. Used with the verb were, the sentence sounds fine; but if you are uncomfortable, restructure: Of all the reasons, a, b and c are the most important.


Question:
“There is intense intimacy and heart-wrenching emotions.” Is or are? Thanks.

Answer:
Are is correct – but not entirely pleasing. The structure is awkward because the compound subject (intimacy + emotions) comes after the verb.
Better to revise: Intense intimacy and heart-wrenching emotions heighten the drama of the film.


Question:
A colleague drives me crazy by indicating that "this criteria” is what we should use to judge something.
I believe criteria is a plural word. If I’m right, what is the singular form?

Answer:
Your colleague has fallen prey to a misunderstanding about singular and plural forms of foreign
derivatives. This word comes from Greek. Criteria is the plural form ("these criteria”) and should not be substituted for the singular criterion ("this criterion”).

 

 

 

Publication and Reprint Information

Unless otherwise attributed, all material is written and edited by Susan B. Kline. Copyright © Susan B. Kline 2011. All Rights Reserved. I invite you to reprint material from this website for educational purposes, provided this copyright notice ("Written and edited by Susan B. Kline, © Susan B. Kline [year]. All Rights Reserved.") and a link to sbkline.com is included in the credits.

 

Grammar Hotline

No more need to wonder about that grammar question!
Contact Sue Kline