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Sentences
  What is a sentence?
    Simple and longer sentences
    Common mistakes

Verbs
  Main verbs
    Common mistakes

  Agreement
    Common mistakes

  Present; past; future tenses
    Consistent tenses

  Personal or impersonal
    Active
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Starter Level Advice

Verbs - Agreement - Common mistakes

There are 5 common mistakes, described below.

To help you avoid these mistakes:
  • check if a word is singular or plural (use a dictionary)
  • identify the real subject - do not confuse it with words which describe or add to it
  • try not to have too many other words between the subject and the verb.
Single subjects referring to a number of items e.g. herd (of cows)

People often make the verb plural when it should be singular.

Example

This is incorrect.
*The herd are running down the field.
This is correct.
The herd is running down the field.

Where the subject is made up of several words

Sometimes people make the verb agree with the word nearest to it, instead of with the real subject.

Example

This is incorrect. The subject is the fleet and it is singular; of ships is describing the fleet and is not the subject.
*The fleet of ships were docked.

This is correct.
The fleet of ships was docked.

In long sentences where there are words between the subject and the verb

People sometimes make the verb agree with a word near it, not with the real subject.

The more words between the subject and the verb, the easier it is to make this mistake

Example

This is incorrect.
*You may not be sure what the relationship of the words after the dots are to the words before them.

The writer has made the verb are (plural) agree with the words the dots. The real subject is the relationship, so the verb should be singular. Taking the intervening words out shows this.
You may not be sure what the relationship ... is to the words before them.

This is correct.
You may not be sure what the relationship of the words after the dots is to the words before them.

There, followed by a form of to be (Raimes 1998 p49)

The verb should agree with the main noun following it.

Example

This is incorrect.
*There are an increasing mix of students at university.

This is correct. The main noun is mix and it is singular.
There is an increasing mix of students at university.

Where the verb follows he, she or it

Here, the verb should end in s. People with certain dialects may miss this off.

This is the correct form of the present tense.
I go
He/she/it goes
We/you/they go

Example

This is not correct.
*He often drive the car.

This is correct.
He often drives the car.

© Learning & Teaching Institute, Sheffield Hallam University 2004