Grammar: Agreement (Concord) In English Language

Concord in broad terms means agreement between the subject and the verbs as well as other elements of the clause structure. The idea of concord in the grammar of English suggests that for an English sentence to be correct and meaningful, its constituent parts (i.e. subject, verb, object, adverbial) must be in perfect agreement.  Some rules of agreement are discussed below:

1. The Subject/Verb Agreement

This is the agreement between the subject and the predicate or verb.  The rule here states that:

(i) When the subject is singular, the verb should be singular i.e. singular subject takes singular verb

Examples:
Tolu is a lover of football. – Tolu (singular subject), is (singular verb)
She likes chocolate – She (singular subject), likes (singular verb)

(ii) When the subject is plural, the verb must also be plural

Examples:
Nigerians are lovers of football. – Nigerians (Plural subject), are (Plural verb)
The children have very loving parents. – Children (Plural subject), have (Plural verb)

The verb agrees with the subject and NOT with the noun next to it.

  • Correct: Her bouquet of flowers is a birthday present. – The verb is affects bouquet not flowers.
  • Incorrect: Her bouquet of flowers are a birthday present.
(The subject here is bouquet, which is part of the noun phrase bouquet of flowers. Since bouquet is a singular item, and we are referring to it and not the flowers, a singular verb should be used.)
  • Correct: The man with two briefcases is heading for the airport.
  • Incorrect: The man with two briefcases are heading for the airport.
  • Correct: The instruction to the boys was not clear.
  • Incorrect: The instruction to the boys were not clear.
  • Correct: The thieves who stole the money have escaped.
  • Incorrect: The thieves who stole the money has escaped.

2. Compound Subject/Verb

A compound subject consists of two or more nouns (Adam and Eve, cowboy and cowgirl), pronouns (your and I, he and she), or noun phrases (a basket of rotten eggs, a layer of dirt). Together, they form the subject of a verb in a sentence.

If the subject has two or more nouns, it takes a plural verb

  • Daniel, David and Daniela are triplets.
  • He, his dog and I are best friends. 

When two or more nouns are joined by ‘and’ to form a subject, the verb is in the plural form

  • Forks and spoons have always been together during dinnertime.
  • The grandfather, the father and the son all have beard.
  • The teacher and the student are inside the class

If the nouns that make up a compound subject are joined by ‘or’ and both are singular, a singular verb is used

  • His father or mother is a professor of insects.
  • Chicken soup or duck soup makes no difference to me because I like all soups. 

If the nouns that make up a compound subject are singular and plural, the verb agrees with the noun nearer to it

  • The clock or the watch or both are not accurate; they tell different times.
  • His killers or killer is still at large.

Related Article: Consonant Sentences and Vocabulary Development

3. Subject coming after Verbs

The subject usually comes before the verb, but there are sentences that have the subjects coming after the verbs. The verbs must still agree with the subjects.

  • There is a fly on your food.
  • I saw three big cows in Mr Tunde’s farm.

In questions, the subjects usually come after the verbs.

  • Does your girlfriend know you have other girls?
  • Have you read my new book?

4. Other Subject Agreement

a – Double – title Subject Concord

When two subjects are joined together by ‘and’ but refer to only one person or thing (i.e. refer to the same entity) the verb to be used should be singular

Examples:

The professor and head of literature department is a public figure.
The founder and CEO of Rise Group is Mrs Toyosi

When two nouns refer to the same person or thing, the verb is in the singular form.

Examples:

  • Correct: The owner and manager of the store is my friend.
    Incorrect: The owner and manager of the store are my friend.
  • Correct: My friend and neighbour has been a magician for many years.
    Incorrect: My friend and neighbour have been a magician for many years.

When two nouns refer to the same person, the article ‘the’ is used only once and the verb is in the singular.

Examples:

  • Correct: The nurse and sister of the patient cares deeply for him. (Nurse and sister are the same person, singular verb cares is used.)
    Incorrect: The nurse and sister of the patient care deeply for him.
  •  Correct: The owner and occupant of the mysterious house was never seen again.

    Incorrect: The owner and occupant of the mysterious house were never seen again.

When two different persons are referred to, the article ‘the’ is repeated and the verb is in the plural.

  • The owner and the occupant of the house are very good friends.
  • The teacher and the father of the student are talking about him.

When two nouns are treated as one entity, the verb is in the singular.

Examples:

  • Bread and butter was his daily breakfast. (Bread and butter stand for one item of food, so a singular verb is used.)
  • Milk and cornflakes is a good diet.
  • Time and tide waits for no man.

As a general rule, use a plural verb with two or more subjects when they are connected by and.

Example: A car and a bike are my means of transportation.

But note these exceptions:

Exceptions:
Breaking and entering is against the law.
The bed and breakfast was charming.

In those sentences, breaking and entering and bed and breakfast are compound nouns.

b – “A – pair- of” Agreement

When the phrase “a – pair – of” is used as a subject, it is treated as singular and it attracts a singular verb

Example:
A pair of shoes is under my bed.
A pair of slippers is missing

c – Rule of Proximity

The rule of proximity states that ‘when there is a list of nouns or pronouns acting as the subject with an ‘or’ a ‘nor’, it is the nearest noun or pronoun to the position of the verb that will determine the choice of the verb.

Examples:
 If the boy dies, the parents, his friends or the doctor is to blame.
If the boy dies; the doctor, his friends or his parents are to blame.

Neither Tunde nor his friends were around for the party
Neither his friends nor Tunde was around for the party

The verb in an or, either/or, or neither/nor sentence agrees with the noun or pronoun closest to it.

Examples:
Neither the plates nor the serving spoon goes on that shelf.
Neither the serving spoon nor the plates go on that shelf.

This rule can lead to bumps in the road.

For example, if I is one of two (or more) subjects, it could lead to this odd sentence:

Awkward: Neither she, my friends, nor I am going to the festival.

If possible, it’s best to re-word such grammatically correct but awkward sentences.

Better:
Neither she, I, nor my friends are going to the festival.
OR
She, my friends, and I are not going to the festival.

d – “Collective Noun” Concord

A collective noun is a noun which stands for many units constituting a single word, e.g, congregation, which stands for worshipers.
A collective noun functioning as the subject of a sentence usually takes a singular verb.

Examples: 

(i)   The congregation sits behind the choir.  (singular verb)
(ii)  Their band is poor (singular verb)

However, in notional terms a collective noun functioning as the subject of a sentence may take a plural verb.

(ii) The group meet once in a year (takes plural verb)
(iii) The police are now up to the task of protecting lives in Nigeria (Plural verb)

e – Indefinite Pronoun Concord

Indefinite pronouns such as everyone, everything, everybody, nobody, anyone, someone, somebody, something, etc. always attract singular verbs

Examples:

Go to the kitchen, someone is in there
No one knows what he can do till he tries
Somebody has taken my pen
The supreme irony of life is that hardly anyone gets out of it alive

f – Phrase Concord
Phrases beginning with ‘with’, ‘as well as’, ‘together with’, etc do not mean the same as ‘and’, and the verb is therefore in the singular.
  • Correct: The woman with her daughter is selling ofada rice.
    Incorrect: The woman with her daughter are selling ofada rice.
  • Correct: Bobola as well as his brother was selected to play at the U-17 world cup final last year.
    Incorrect: Bob as well as his brother were selected to play at the U-17 world cup final last year.

For those prepositions and the nouns that follow them (objects of the prepositions), these are prepositional phrases. Therefore, Objects of prepositions cannot be subjects.

Examples:

The letter (singular) to the editors is(singular to agree with letter) ready.
The copiers(plural) in Operations are(plural to agree with copiers) better than those in our area.

g – Plural Number Concord

Amounts or units such as “four hundred times”, ‘ten percent’, ‘three hundred days’, etc are generally treated as singular subjects when in the nominative case, and should take singular verbs, e.g.,

Ten percent is too small for me.         
One million naira is a lot of money 

When a quantity or an amount is treated as a whole, the verb used is singular.

  • The N1000.00 you lent me was not enough.
  • Two hundred dollars nowadays is not a lot of money.
  • How many kobos is equal to one naira?
  • He said eighty – two kilograms was her weight.
  • Twenty kilometers is a long distance to walk.

h. Other Rules

i – Words indicating Portions

With words that indicate portions—e.g., a lot, a majority, some, all are guided by the noun after of. If the noun after of is singular, use a singular verb. If it is plural, use a plural verb.

Examples:
A lot of the pie has disappeared.
A lot of the pies have disappeared.

A fraction of Nigeria’s Youth is unemployed.
A fraction of Nigeria’s Youths are unemployed.

All of the potato is gone.
All of the potatoes are gone.

Some of the pie is missing.
Some of the pies are missing.

ii – Gerunds

When gerunds are used as the subject of a sentence, they take the singular verb form of the verb; but, when they are linked by and, they take the plural form.

Example:
Standing in the water was a bad idea.
Swimming in the ocean and dancing are my hobbies.

iii. Movie/Book Titles

Titles of books, movies, novels, etc. are treated as singular and take a singular verb.

The Burbs is a movie starring Tom Hanks.
The Three Musketeers is my favourite book

 

 For more lessons, visit: Grammar Clinic

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Busola Ojumu

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