Grandma\’s Tales

December 30, 2006

Grammar – 22 Agree, verb, agree!

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 10:25 am

A note from Subrat.
“I am back after a two week vacation in New Zealand (my gift to myself on turning 30). I am happy to report that bad grammar is a universal phenomenon with wrong usage of apostrophes at its van. NZ, I was happy to note, is contributing its fair share. (Glad to know we are not alone in this endeavour, Subrat. It’s a comforting thought that our co-accused are native speakers of the language. Wish you had collected some of the apostrophe gems for display here.)

Anyway, I am glad to see a test and here are my attempts. (Subrat had no problem with the first nine.)

[10] The team captain, as well as the players, ______ anxious. (is, are)  Ans: Tricky one. I have a nagging feeling that I read a footnote in my grammar text (’Agreement of the verb with the subject’ – Class 7 if I am not wrong) which suggests that in case of a compound subject (one which is singular and the other which is plural), the verb should agree with the subject which is closest to it. In which case the answer should be ‘are’. The sentence also rolls of the tongue better with ‘are’ in it. So I will go with ‘are’. Would definitely like to hear from you on this.”

I totally agree with that. “The team captain, as well as the players are anxious” rolls off the tongue easily. But that’s because we have been hearing people say that. To make the subject plural, we need to upgrade “as well as”. Give it the status of “and”. It’s only then does it become a compound subject. Otherwise “as well as” is considered “parenthetical” – something that should be hidden between two curved doors. It keeps the subject singular. So,
The Mayor, as well as his councillors, is present.
The team captain, as well as the players is anxious.

The proximity principle: Your foot note on this, I’m sure was about “or & nor”.
Here is the rule: When one of the subjects joined by or/nor is plural, the verb must be plural. The plural subject should be placed nearest the verb.
Neither the chairman nor the directors are present.
This is because both the nouns (chairman, directors) are of equal importance. “Or” and “nor” are choices, right? And choices should be of equal importance. The nearest subject, “directors” is plural, so the verb is plural.

If we wrote our sentence this way, giving the captain and the players equal weight (a compound subject): Both the team captain and the players ______ anxious, what would your answer be?

Here are some teasers:
[1] To take pay and then not do the work  ____ dishonest. (is, are)
[2] One of the other fellows ____ stolen the watch. (have, has)
[3] The house, as well as its contents, _____ auctioned. (was, were)
[4] The strain of facing so many difficulties ____ left its mark on him. (has, have)

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6 Comments »

  1. Geeta,
    Thanks for the correction. I recollect the funda now. Anyway, I am hoping for an all-correct on this one:

    [1] To take pay and then not do the work ____ dishonest. (is, are)

    Ans: is

    [2] One of the other fellows ____ stolen the watch. (have, has)

    Ans: has

    [3] The house, as well as its contents, _____ auctioned. (was, were)

    Ans: was (not commiting the mistake again)

    [4] The strain of facing so many difficulties ____ left its mark on him. (has, have)

    Ans: has

    I thought you might add a few dependent clause twists this time around in the quiz.

    Thankfully, you didn’t.

    Subrat

    Comment by Subrat — December 30, 2006 @ 11:34 am | Reply

  2. On the dot, Subrat! Congrats! Let me go over the rules first before playing with clause-d sentences!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — December 30, 2006 @ 9:41 pm | Reply

  3. The quiz answers-

    [1] To take pay and then not do the work *is* dishonest. (is, are)
    [2] One of the other fellows *have* stolen the watch. (have, has)
    [3] The house, as well as its contents, *was* auctioned. (was, were)
    [4] The strain of facing so many difficulties *has* left its mark on him. (has, have)

    And now that I’ve gone through your comments to Subrat’s answers, I know the second one is incorrect. Actually, had I taken this quiz without reading the previous post, I’d have answered “…has stolen the watch.” 😦 just because that’d have sounded right. But, we are referring to only “One of the other fellows” and not “The other fellows”, so the subject is singular. Ok.

    Comment by Rashmi — December 31, 2006 @ 1:51 pm | Reply

  4. Bingo, Rashmi! And great explanation, there! I couldn’t have put it better. Thanks!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — December 31, 2006 @ 11:12 pm | Reply

  5. Ah, I see what you mean. If the sentence was modified to “Neither the chairman nor the board of directors ____ present”, would the correct would have been “is”?

    Comment by Navaneethan Santhanam — February 17, 2007 @ 2:31 am | Reply

  6. Hi Navaneethan, thanks for stopping by. And that’s a great sentence you have picked on. Now, split it into the orginal two. The chairman was not present. The board of directors was not present. Because there is a choice, the two sentences are equal in importance. But according to the proximity principle, the verb generally agrees with the nearest subject, right? But in your sentence, “Neither the chairman nor the board of directors ____ present”, you are absolutely right in choosing “is”, in spite of the word “directors” closest to it. That is because the subject of this part of the sentence is “board”! The word “directors” is only the object of the preposition “of”! It is like this sentence: The fleet of ships was noticed in the hanbour.
    It would be a different answer if your sentence were “Neither the chairman nor the directors ____ present”. What would you put on the line now?

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — February 17, 2007 @ 8:55 am | Reply


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