2.4: Subject-Verb Agreement and Tense
A very common error is when subjects and verbs do not match in number. Plural nouns should be matched with plural verbs; singular nouns should be matched with singular verbs. In the following sentences, the subjects and verbs do not agree.
Incorrect: Maria and her friend is going to the store.
Plural Subject: Maria and her friend/Singular verb: is
Correct: Maria and her friend are going to the store
Incorrect: One of the cereal boxes are open.
Singular Subject: One of the cereal boxes/Plural Verb: are
Correct: One of the cereal boxes is open.
Incorrect: Either* are fine.
Singular Subject: Either/Plural Verb: are
Correct: Either is fine.
*The words each, each one, either, neither, everyone, everybody, anybody, anyone, nobody, somebody, someone, and no one are singular and require a singular verb.
Verb tense helps readers to understand relationships among events. Writers must be very careful with verb tenses because inconsistent use of verb tense can be very confusing for the reader. When writing, be mindful of whether events are in the past, present, or future, and adjust your verb tense accordingly. Consider the following paragraph below (the verbs are in italics).
My sister sprains her ankle on Tuesday and went to the hospital. Then, on Thursday, she drops a dish on her toe and hurt her toe too. She must be an accident-prone person last week! I drive over to her apartment to see her tomorrow. Hopefully, she is healing before next week’s charity walk.
Notice how confusing and inconsistent this paragraph sounds. It is unclear when events are happening; even if we can figure out the relationships between events, the paragraph still sounds unpolished and is frustrating to read. Revising this paragraph for consistency in verb tense will make the writing more clear and polished. We might revise the paragraph to sound like this:
My sister sprained her ankle on Tuesday and went to the hospital. Then, on Thursday, she dropped a dish on her toe and hurt her toe too. She must have been an accident-prone person last week! I will drive over to her apartment to see her tomorrow. Hopefully, she heals before next week’s charity walk.