Category: Subject and Verb Agreement

Verbal Illusions

Posted on Tuesday, November 4, 2014, at 2:14 pm

Today we’ll look at three perplexing sentences that are the verbal equivalent of optical illusions. • Every man and woman has arrived. Why has? The phrase man and woman denotes a plural subject. Consider the following grammatically sound sentence: The happy man and woman have arrived. Every and happy both function as adjectives that modify man and woman in these almost identical sentences. But every is so powerfully singular that …

Read More

Collective Nouns and Consistency

Posted on Tuesday, July 8, 2014, at 4:43 pm

In American English, most collective nouns take singular verbs—except when a sentence emphasizes the individuals in the group, not the group as a whole. In a sentence like The faculty is organized into eight departments, the collective noun faculty is singular. But consider The university’s faculty are renowned scholars in their own right. In that …

Read More

These Nouns Present Singular Problems

Posted on Tuesday, July 1, 2014, at 9:02 pm

Let’s talk about nouns with split personalities. A collective noun (e.g., group, team, jury, flock, herd) is a paradox: singular in form (the team, a jury, one flock) but plural in meaning—who ever heard of a one-person group or a one-goat herd? Whenever we use a collective noun as a subject, we must decide whether …

Read More

When They Is a Cop-out

Posted on Monday, April 28, 2014, at 6:40 pm

Ours is a language of traps and pitfalls. Anyone serious about writing in English has to take on problems no one has ever quite solved. One of the most obstinate of these, as inescapable as it is confounding, concerns singular pronouns that have plural connotations (everyone, nobody, anyone, somebody, etc.). Even fine writers on occasion …

Read More

The Wicked Of

Posted on Monday, March 31, 2014, at 5:03 pm

What would prompt H.W. Fowler to pick on the word of? Fowler (1858-1933), whom many regard as the dean of English-language scholars, ascribed to of “the evil glory of being accessary to more crimes against grammar than any other.” Do not be fooled by looks. Weighing in at a svelte two letters, this petite preposition …

Read More

1 6 7 8 9 10 11