Verb agreement brainteasers

Dear editors,

The last time we met, I wrote about making subjects and verbs agree. In other words, the alluring scent (singular) of baked goods wafts (singular) down the street — it doesn’t waft (plural). Today, I’ll focus on one slightly mind-bending sentence structure that produces a lot of subject-verb disagreements.

Here’s an (incorrect) example to get us started:

The best thing you can buy at Ikea are the meatballs.

This tricky sentence may make you question whether you need a singular or plural verb. To get to the bottom of the problem, let’s break it down. First, the subject:

The best thing you can buy at Ikea are the meatballs.

Next, the verb:

The best thing you can buy at Ikea are the meatballs.

And finally you have something called the predicate nominative:

The best thing you can buy at Ikea are the meatballs.

With all that in mind, the sentence should be:

The best thing (singular) you can buy at Ikea is (singular) the meatballs.

A predicate nominative provides information about the subject. Confusion arises when you combine a singular subject with a plural predicate nominative (or vice versa). But the important thing to remember is that the verb in your sentence should always agree with your subject.

A few more examples:

Incorrect: All this shirt needs are buttons.

Correct: All this shirt needs is buttons.

Incorrect: The only sign of Halloween were the cobwebs on the stoop.

Correct: The only sign of Halloween was the cobwebs on the stoop.

Incorrect: Extensive study and constant practice holds the secret to her success.

Correct: Extensive study and constant practice hold the secret to her success.

Typos of the Week

Via Bridgett at Vox dot com, who spotted this at Target:

And an alarming tweet from USA Today (can you see the mistake through your terror?):


​New Words

We welcomed banh mi (singular and plural), fixin’s, madeleine (lowercase for the cookie), yak-a-mein, chocolate chip cookies, Oktoberfest, Formica, heaven, hell, American dream, sit-down (noun, adjective), sit down (verb), jack-o’-lantern, Silicon Valley, wine country, lamppost, CoverGirl, and price tag.

And a reminder: The names of Curbed, Eater, and Racked sites should be plain text, not italicized.

Copy News

The New Yorker published a shocking seven-comma sentence. Before Google, there was a New York Times column called “Queries from the Curious and Answers to Them.” And one last time (this goes for restaurants, too):

Have a great week,

Emma

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