The verb is the most important part of a sentence, but verbs aren’t always easy to spot. Consider the word swim in the sentences The ducks swim in the pond and The ducks love to swim. In the ﬁrst sentence, swim is the verb. In the second sentence, swim is part of a noun phrase. (To swim is the thing that the ducks love.) So how do we spot verbs? A verb is what conveys the essential meaning of a clause (a string of words that convey an idea). Every idea requires a verb. The sentence The ducks swim in the pond says that Something swims somewhere, so the verb is swim. The sentence The ducks love to swim says that Something loves something, so the verb is love. Every verb requires a subject, that is, what does the verb. In both sentences, the subject is ducks. A verb may also require an object, that is, what receives the verb. In The ducks love to swim, the object is to swim, because that is the thing that is loved. Example: When David approached third base, the coach waved him home. This sentence contains two related ideas, so it contains two clauses, and therefore two verbs: Clause 1: When David approached third base Verb: approached Subject: David Object: third base Clause 2: the coach waved him home Verb: waved Subject: the coach Object: him “third person singular” form—as in he spends—but people is plural, so the phrase should be people spend.
Tricky Plurals and Singulars
These rules will help you to check whether a verb agrees in “number” with its subject: Phrases like Sam and Bob are plural, but phrases like Sam, in addition to Bob, are singular. Phrases that start as well as . . . , together with . . . , along with . . . , or in addition to . . . are interrupters, which are not part of the main subject.
These words are singular: each, anyone, anybody, anything, another, neither, either, every, everyone, someone, no one, somebody, everything, little, and much. To check for SVD, you can replace any of them with it.
These words are plural: phenomena (singular: phenomenon), media (singular: medium), data (singular: datum), and criteria (singular: criterion). To check for SVD, you can replace any of them with they.
All of the following can be either singular or plural, according to the noun that follows the of: none (of), any (of), some (of), most (of), more (of), and all (of).
Subject-Verb Disagreement (SVD)
Every verb must agree in number (singular or plural) with its subject. Subject-verb disagreement is one of the most common errors tested for on the SAT. If you are a native speaker of English, the best way to check for subject-verb disagreement is to ﬁnd the subject and verb (ignoring all the intervening words) and say them together. Example: The people, who are easily persuaded by corporatesponsored media, spends very little time analyzing issues. The subject of the verb spends is people. But people spends sounds wrong, because spends is the Verbs that follow subjects of the form either A or B and neither A nor B must agree with B, the noun closer to the verb.
Usually the subject comes before the verb, but inverted clauses have the subject after the verb. For instance, sentences that start There is . . . or There are . . . are inverted. To check subject-verb agreement in these sentences, ﬁrst “uninvert” them. Example: There are many ﬂies in the barn. (inverted) V S Many ﬂies are in the barn. (uninverted) S V
CHAPTER 15 / ESSENTIAL GRAMMAR SKILLS
Concept Review 1: Subject-Verb Disagreement
Next to each noun or noun phrase, write “S” if it is singular or “P” if it is plural. 1. Neither rain nor snow 2. Crowd of rowdy fans 3. Media 4. Criterion 5. One or two 6. Everything 7. Either of the candidates 8. Phenomena __________ __________ __________ __________ __________ __________ __________ __________
Circle the subject in each sentence, and choose the correct verb. 9. Neither of the cars (is/are) equipped with antilock brakes. 10. The ﬂock of geese (was/were) startled by the shotgun blast. 11. The data on my computer (was/were) completely erased when the power failed. 12. Mathematics and history (is/are) my favorite subjects. 13. None of the roast (was/were) eaten. 14. All of the games (was/were) played on real grass ﬁelds. 15. Pride and Prejudice (is/are) my favorite Jane Austen novel. 16. Neither of the twins (is/are) allergic to penicillin. 17. Much of what I hear in those lectures (goes/go) in one ear and out the other. 18. Amy, along with Jamie and Jen, (is/are) applying to Mount Holyoke. 19. None of the books (was/were) considered ﬁt for public consumption. 20. All of the eggplant (was/were) used to make the sauce. 21. Amid the lilies and wildﬂowers (was/were) one solitary rose. 22. Either Ben or his brothers (is/are) in charge of bringing the drinks. 23. There (is/are) hardly even a speck of dirt left on the carpet. 24. “Stop right there!” (shouts/shout) the Bailey brothers, who are standing in front of me. 25. Either the Donovans or Dave (is/are) going to bring the plates. 26. There (is/are) at least a hundred people here. “Uninvert” the following sentences so that the verb follows the subject, then choose the correct verb form. 27. There (is/are), in my opinion, far too many smokers in this restaurant. _________________________________________________________________________________________________ 28. Over that hill (is/are) thousands of bison. _________________________________________________________________________________________________ 29. Riding on the bus among the children (was/were) over a dozen commuters. _________________________________________________________________________________________________ 30. Never before (has/have) there been such voices heard here. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 31. Absent from the article (was/were) any mention of the director’s previous Broadway failures. _________________________________________________________________________________________________
Worksheet 1: Subject-Verb Disagreement
Label each verb in the following sentences with a “V” and each subject with an “S.” If any verbs are incorrect, cross them out and write the correct form in the blank. 1. We were horriﬁed to discover that there was more than three mice living in the attic. 2. Either the president or one of her aides are going to coordinate the project. 3. There is nearly always two or three guards posted at each entrance. 4. Every player on both the Falcons and the Rockets were at the party after the game. 5. There has been a theater and a toy store in the mall ever since it opened. 6. Either Eric or his brother is hosting the party this year. 7. There is no fewer than six crayons in this box. 8. The therapy can resume as planned because neither of the twins are allergic to penicillin. 9. The proceeds from the sale of every auctioned item goes to charity. 10. Economics, particularly with its dependence on the behavior of consumers and producers, has always struck me as more of a human science than a mathematical one. 11.
There is more than three years remaining on her contract. 12. Neither of the girls were frightened by the wild animals that scurried incessantly past their tent. 13. The technology behind high-deﬁnition television, DVDs, and CDs have transformed nearly every aspect of the home entertainment industry. 14. Every player on both teams were concerned about the goalie’s injury. 15. The company’s sponsorship of charitable foundations and mentorship programs have garnered many commendations from philanthropic organizations. 16. Neither the children nor their parents utters a word when Mrs. Denny tells her stories. 17. How important is your strength training and your diet to your daily regimen? _______________ _______________ _______________ _______________ _______________ _______________ _______________ _______________ _______________
_______________ _______________ _______________
CHAPTER 15 / ESSENTIAL GRAMMAR SKILLS
Answer Key 1: Subject-Verb Disagreement
Concept Review 1
1. S 2. S 3. P 4. S 5. P 6. S 7. S 8. P 9. s: neither, v: is 10. s: ﬂock, v: was 11. s: data, v: were (data is plural) 12. s: mathematics and history, v: are 13. s: none (roast), v: was 14. s: all (games), v: were 15. s: Pride and Prejudice, v: is 16. s: neither, v: is 17. s: much, v: goes 18. s: Amy, v: is 19. s: none (books), v: were 20. s: all (eggplant), v: was 21. s: rose, v: was 22. s: brothers, v: are 23. s: speck, v: is 24. s: Bailey brothers, v: shout 25. s: Dave, v: is 26. s: people, v: are 27. Far too many smokers, in my opinion, are in this restaurant. 28. Thousands of bison are over that hill. 29. Among the children, over a dozen commuters were riding on the bus. 30. Such voices have never before been heard here. 31. Any mention of the director’s previous Broadway failures was absent from the article.
1. s: we, v: were (correct); s: mice, v: was (change to were) 2. s: one, v: are (change to is) 3. s: guards, v: is (change to are) 4. s: every player, v: were (change to was) 5. s: a theater and a toy store, v: has been (change to have been) 6. s: his brother, v: is (correct) 7. s: crayons, v: is (change to are) 8. s: therapy, v: can resume (correct); s: neither, v: are (change to is) 9. s: proceeds, v: goes (change to go) 10. s: economics, v: has struck (correct) 11. s: years, v: is (change to are) 12. s: neither, v: were (change to was) 13. s: technology, v: have transformed (change to has transformed) 14. s: every player, v: were (change to was) 15. s: sponsorship, v: have garnered (change to has garnered) 16. s: their parents, v: utters (change to utter); s: Mrs. Denny, v: tells 17. s: your strength training and your diet, v: is (change to are)
Lesson 2: Trimming Sentences
Spotting SVD errors is often easier when you “trim” the sentence, that is, eliminate nonessential modiﬁers to leave the “core” of the sentence. What remains after you “trim” a sentence should still be a grammatically correct and complete sentence. Modiﬁers are adjectives and adverbs, as well as modifying phrases like participial phrases (see Lesson 7). Most modiﬁers are not essential to a sentence, but some are. Use your best judgment. One kind of essential adjective is a predicate adjective, that is, an adjective that is linked to the subject by a linking verb, as in Martha is smart. Trimming a sentence helps you to spot SVD more easily. Original: My chief concern with this budget and the other proposals on the table are the cuts in school funds. My concern are the cuts. My concern is the cuts.
How to “Trim” a Sentence Step 1: Cross out all nonessential prepositional phrases. e.g., The bird in the cage began singing. A preposition is a word that shows relative position or direction. It can complete one of the following sentences: The squirrel ran _____ the tree. Democracy is government _____ the people. Examples include to, from, of, for, by, in, before, with, beyond, and up. A prepositional phrase is the preposition and the noun phrase that follows, including its modiﬁers. e.g., from sea to shining sea in the beginning with hat in hand
Who Kicked Whom?
When you write, trim your sentences to play the “Who kicked whom?” exercise. Look at the subject-verbobject (“Who kicked whom?”) core, and see if it clearly and forcefully conveys the thought you want to convey. Original: The lack of economic programs and no big country’s being ready to join it symbolized the problems the League of Nations had in getting established. The lack and no country’s being ready symbolized the problems.
Step 2: Cross out all interrupting phrases.
e.g., The committee, ignoring tradition, will approve the measure. An interrupting phrase is a modifying phrase that interrupts the ﬂow of the sentence. Interrupters are generally separated from the main sentence by commas or dashes.
Yikes! That doesn’t make a shred of sense; rewrite it. Revised: Two problems plagued the establishment of the League of Nations: its lack of viable economic programs and its lack of support from the larger countries.
Step 3: Cross out all other nonessential modiﬁers and modifying phrases. e.g., Having traveled so far, the baseball team hardly wanted to forfeit the championship game.
CHAPTER 15 / ESSENTIAL GRAMMAR SKILLS
Concept Review 2: Trimming Sentences
1. What are the three types of words or phrases that can be eliminated when “trimming” a sentence? __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 2. Why is it sometimes helpful to “trim” a sentence? _________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 3. Circle all of the prepositions in the list below. of beyond for and with the an without some along below
4. What is a prepositional phrase? __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 5. Write four examples of prepositional phrases. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ Write the trimmed version of each sentence on the line below it, correcting any verb problems. 6. The team of advisors, arriving ahead of schedule, were met at the airport by the Assistant Prime Minister. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 7. The ﬂock of birds that darted over the lake were suddenly an opalescent silver. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 8. Carmen, along with her three sisters, are unlikely to be swayed by arguments supporting David’s position. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ Write the trimmed version of each sentence on the line below it, then rewrite the sentence to make it clearer and more forceful, changing the subject and verb entirely, if necessary. 9. Nearly inevitably,
advancements, or those being popularly regarded as such, have to do with modiﬁcations, not overhaul. Trimmed: ________________________________________________________________________________________ Revised: __________________________________________________________________________________________ 10. The development of the new country’s governmental system was affected in a negative regard by the rebels’ lack of cohesiveness. Trimmed: ________________________________________________________________________________________ Revised: __________________________________________________________________________________________
Worksheet 2: Trimming Sentences
Write the “trimmed” version of each sentence, circling the verbs and subjects and correcting any agreement errors. 1. Juggling the demands of both school and my social agenda often seem too much to bear. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 2. Others on the committee, like the chairwoman Amanda Sanders, is concerned about the lack of attention given to school safety. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 3. The waiters’ professional demeanor—particularly their keen knowledge, their attention to detail, and their cordiality—are what makes dining there such a sublime culinary experience. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 4. The system by which candidates for local political ofﬁces are selected is archaic and, many contend, unfair. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 5. The abundance of companies that fail in their ﬁrst
year of business contribute to an intimidating economic climate. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 6. When scientists theorize about the traits that all humans have come to share, they must be keenly aware of the fact that these traits have evolved over millions of generations. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 7. The entire industry of tobacco companies and distributors has steadfastly maintained their position that tobacco is not addictive and that smoking is an inalienable right of consumers. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 8. The challenge of Mount Everest, its conquerors claim, is far more the lack of oxygen at its rareﬁed heights than even the precarious ice falls or precipitous ascents. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 9. One in every three Americans agree strongly with the statement: “Anyone who would run for political ofﬁce is not worth voting for.” __________________________________________________________________________________________________ 10. The fact that humans have committed so many atrocities have forced some historians to adopt a cynical perspective on human nature. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________
CHAPTER 15 / ESSENTIAL GRAMMAR SKILLS
Answer Key 2: Trimming Sentences
Concept Review 2
1. Prepositional phrases, interrupting phrases, and nonessential modiﬁers 2. Trimming reveals subject-verb disagreement errors and reveals how clear and forceful the sentence is. 3. Prepositions: of, beyond, for, with, without, along, below. 4. A prepositional phrase is a preposition and the noun or noun phrase that follows it. 5. Examples might include in the tree, without hesitation, beyond gimmicks, and over two million hungry customers. 6. The team were (change to was) met. 7. The ﬂock were (change to was) silver. 8. Carmen are (change to is) unlikely to be swayed. 9. Trimmed: Advancements have to do with modiﬁcations. The verb (have to do with) is weak, vague, and inactive, and the subject (advancements) and object (modiﬁcation) are abstract and vague. To improve the sentence, think about the intended meaning of the sentence, and use stronger and less abstract terms. Here’s a good revision: Typically, societies progress by making small modiﬁcations to their institutions, not by overhauling them completely. 10. Trimmed: The development was affected. The verb (was affected) is weak, passive, and vague. Here’s a good revision: The incohesiveness of the rebels hindered the development of the new government.