Lately the most common error I see in the writing samples of smart, successful people is a lack of subject-verb agreement. People are using singular verbs with plural subjects, and plural verbs with singular subjects. Errors are popping up everywhere.
For example, a subject-verb error hurts this sentence:
The Board of Directors meet monthly.
Explanation of the error: Board is a singular subject; it requires a singular verb, meets: The Board meets monthly.
If you changed the sentence to focus on the Board members, the plural verb meet would be correct:
The members of the Board of Directors meet monthly.
A subject-verb error ruins this sentence too:
Options regarding the ways to handle the risk was discussed.
Explanation of the error: The plural subject options requires a plural verb, were discussed: Options were discussed. . . .
Test yourself: Can you find errors in the examples below?
1. I want to ensure that my grammar and punctuation is correct in every document I send out.
2. Each of the samples were labeled before shipment.
3. Here’s three follow-up questions for you.
4. The need to improve our processes are important to everyone involved.
5. Testing showed that the internal temperature of these systems settle below the temperature displayed on the gauges.
6. Clear acceptance criteria needs to be established.
7. Proper segregation of duties do not exist between the employee performing the payroll reconciliation and the individual who updates the employee master list.
8. The approval and the modification agreement is sent to Loan Servicing.
9. There is not any substantial changes in any of the financial sections of this narrative.
10. We have not determined whether Mr. Frye’s version of the events are accurate.
Every sentence had an error. Here are the correct subject-verb combinations:
1. grammar and punctuation are
2. Each . . . was labeled
3. Here are three
4. The need . . . is
5. temperature . . . settles
6. criteria need (Grammar sticklers view the word criteria as plural.)
7. segregation . . . does
8. approval and the modification agreement are
9. There are not any substantial changes
10. version . . . is
My Microsoft grammar and spelling checker was able to identify and correct all the errors except Numbers 1, 5, and 6. In Number 1, I am surprised Microsoft did not recognize the plural subject “grammar and punctuation.” In Number 5, the subject temperature is followed by a prepositional phrase, “of these systems,” which makes it challenging to identify the simple subject. In Number 6, my grammar and spelling checker must have loosened up about criteria and regarded it as singular.
The key to matching subjects and verbs is to recognize the simple subject, that is, the subject without any modifying phrases. For instance, in these sentences, ignore the words I have crossed out:
The key to matching subjects and verbs is to recognize the simple subject.
The need to balance our priorities and activities has become more pressing.
The demand for both skilled workers and day laborers increases daily.
We are not certain whether her description of the individuals in her classes is accurate.
How easily did you recognize the errors in subject-verb agreement? I welcome your comments and questions.