Making subjects and verbs agree

Dear editors,

Subject-verb agreement is pretty straightforward: Singular subjects go with singular verbs, and plural subjects go with plural verbs. So She is at the fair, but She and her friends are at the fair.

But subject-verb agreement errors are surprisingly easy to make. A couple recent examples of subject-verb disagreement, with the subjects in red and the verbs in blue:

Throughout the bustling core of Centro, Oaxaca, the alluring scent of baked goods waft from small shops along the streets.

Here, we have a singular subject (scent) paired with a plural verb (waft). The correct construction: the alluring scent of baked goods wafts from small shops along the streets.

Drawings of the house published in Arts & Architecture in 1951 as “A Small Hill Camp” shows two single-story A-frames…

This example contains a plural subject (drawings) with a singular verb (shows). The revised version: Drawings of the house published in Arts & Architecture in 1951 as “A Small Hill Camp” show two single-story A-frames…

How can I keep this from happening?

If your subjects and verbs are close together, they’re more likely to agree. I suspect that in the first example, the plural “baked goods” that comes between scent and waft caused some confusion. When in doubt, simplify your sentence to check your work: The scent waft from small shops along the streets just doesn’t sound right.

Companies — and restaurants — are singular

A reminder that companies and restaurants are singular, and go with singular verbs and pronouns. So when you’re writing about Vespertine, for instance, you would say it serves depressive haute cuisine, not they serve depressive haute cuisine. This is an extremely common error, so please keep an eye out!

A note on plural nouns

Some nouns, like data, are plural in form (the singular of data is datum). The word data should be used with plural verbs and pronouns.

An exception: When you’re talking about a unit of data, singular nouns are appropriate. Take the AP Stylebook’s example: The data is sound (a unit), but The data have been carefully collected (individual items).

More to come!

Next week, I’ll write about some thorny sentence structures that tend to lead to subject-verb disagreements. So stay tuned!

Copy News

From Sara Polsky, “love” cannot be an ingredient in granola. An LA Times copy editor muses about which rules are okay to break, a useful style guide for writing about transgender people, and a look at how “the algorithm” shapes what we read, see, and produce every day.

And some key additions to our word lists: windowsill, hollandaise, middleman, green space (not greenspace), badass, and pork chop. Have any questions about how to spell or style a word? Ask me in the #eater-copy-edit, #curbed-copy-edit, or #racked-copy-edit Slack room!

And FYI: I’ll be at Eater Day next Monday. Looking forward to seeing many of you there!

Have a great week,

Emma

Like what you read? Give Emma Alpern a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.