5 Subject-Verb Disagreements

By Mark Nichol

When crafting sentences, writers must take care to check that verbs are inflected to correspond with the subject—the word or phrase the verb pertains to—which is not necessarily the most adjacent noun. The following sentences, each discussed and revised beneath the examples, demonstrate the various pitfalls one can encounter with this issue.

1. Demonstrating effective continuous-monitoring programs have also helped leading institutions meet heightened regulatory expectations.

The verb following programs pertains not to that word but to demonstrating—it is the act of demonstrating, not the programs, that has provided the assistance referred to here, so has is the correct form of the verb: “Demonstrating effective continuous-monitoring programs has also helped leading institutions meet heightened regulatory expectations.”

2. Nearly one in three organizations spend less than one million dollars annually on compliance with the regulation.

In sentences such as this in which a phrase refers to a proportion of a whole in which the proportion is one, the verb should be singular: “Nearly one in three organizations spends less than one million dollars annually on compliance with the regulation.”

3. Implementing simplistic solutions based on symptomatic causes, or a single cause when there are multiple interacting causes, are highly likely to end in failure and disappointment.

When two choices are presented as alternatives rather than as a combination, with or rather than and linking them, a singular verb is appropriate because it applies only to the first option: “Implementing simplistic solutions based on symptomatic causes, or a single cause when there are multiple interacting causes, is highly likely to end in failure and disappointment.”

4. The patchwork of federal and state regulations have left firms with great uncertainty about how to comply.

The verb applies to the subject patchwork, not to the phrase modifying the subject, so has, not have, is correct: “The patchwork of federal and state regulations has left firms with great uncertainty about how to comply.”

5. I feel that each of these skills are crucial for this job.

The subject of this sentence is each, not skills, so the associated verb must be singular: “I feel that each of these skills is crucial for this job.”

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7 Responses to “5 Subject-Verb Disagreements”

  • Danny

    Sentence #2: I take issue with “Nearly one in three.” I’d recast from the get go.

  • Bill

    When did it become perfectly OK for everyone—even professional broadcasters—to say things like, “There’s many people who feel that way”? Did I miss something? Why is “there’s” in dictionaries and “there’re” isn’t?

  • Dale A. Wood

    “In sentences such as this in which a phrase refers to a proportion of a whole in which the proportion is one, the verb should be singular: ‘Nearly one in three organizations spends less than one million dollars annually on compliance with the regulation.’ ”

    YES, YES, YES! Also, this is a case in grammar that is SO OFTEN abused badly in announcers/ participants in TV commercials, and by news announcers/ reporters, and by politicians on the air.

    Here is something at the gist of the problem, one that is best left to two parallel examples, though we could make many more:
    A. One in three new schoolteachers HAS left the profession within three years.
    B. One-third of all new schoolteachers HAVE left the profession within three years.

    In sentence A, “One” is the subject of the sentence, and one is singular. There is no way around this. Some people find ways to argue that “none” is not singular, but rather “none are” is acceptable, but I cannot see this at all. If “one” is singular, then “zero” is also singular.
    In sentence B, we are doing arithmetic in word form, and “one-third of” is multiplication. For example, if the number of new schoolteachers is 999, then (1/3)x(999) = 333, which is still plural.

    For a twist on this where everything is plural: “Two out of five newlyweds HAVE made a big mistake, and they should never HAVE gotten married to whom that they did.” Furthermore, “they” is appropriate because “Two” is plural. Looking at it as an arithmetic problem, (2/5)x(all newlyweds), in practical circumstances , is plural.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I once made the comment that the logic in languages like English is very mathematical.
    Immediately, some knucklehead raised an uproar, and he said that language does not have anything to do with mathematics.
    Well, well, here is an immediate counterpoint to that idea: “singular” vs. “plural”. In English, French, German, Russian, it is all built in to the language. Some other languages, including some known obsolete ones, have “singular”, “dual”, and “plural” in their formations of nouns, pronouns, and verbs.

    Most languages have a usual word order like these:
    a) Subject, verb, direct object.
    b) Subject, direct object, verb.
    c) Verb, subject, direct object.
    Other things like indirect objects and adverbs vary from language to language.
    The usual word order is a quite mathematical and logical thing.
    When it comes to adjectives and adverbs, lots of people do not seem to know that in English:
    a) Adjectives, including articles, usually proceed their nouns,
    but the attached prepositional phrases usually follow them.
    (A truckload of coral from the bottom of the sea.)
    b) Adverbs, including adverbial prepositional phrases, usually follow their verbs. Exceptions are found in which the adverb comes beforehand for emphasis. Thus, people who put their adverbs in front all the time are “shouting” all the time. They might as well WRITE EVERYTHING IN UPPER CASE!

    In Latinate languages like Spanish, French, and Italian, adjectives usually follow their nouns, excepting articles. A fine example of this is seen in California**, in which you will see many markers for “El Camino Real”. Well “real” means “royal”, so it isn’t anything about “real stuff”. This is “The highway royal” = “The royal highway”, or even “The King’s highway”.

  • Dale A. Wood

    California**
    **Once owned by various tribes of Indians, has been ruled successively by the Spanish Empire, the Mexican Republic, and the United States of America. The influence of the Spanish language runs deeply.
    It is interesting that a great Californian, Mariano J. Vallejo, served the governments of Spain (as a young man), Mexico, California, and the United States, and he was one of the original Senators from California who represented the state in the Senate of the United States. Long after his death, he was honored by the naming of a nuclear submarine, the USS MARIANO J. VALLEJO, and also there is a significant city near San Francisco named Vallejo, California.
    Watch out for Mariposa County, Calif. “Mariposa” means “butterfly” in Spanish, but watch out for the fact that “Maricopa County” is in Arizona, and this is its most populous county.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @ Bill, you are so right:
    “There’s many people who feel that way”?
    “There’s” = “there is”, but “there is” no contraction for “there are”.
    The use of “there’s” in the last instance is merely a case of simple-mindedness and laziness.
    I would blame all of that on Americans, BUT I have seen and heard many Britons do it, and in my limited experience, it is a much more common abuse by Britons. I am tempted to call it a Briticism.

  • Renee

    In #4, I don’t see how “patchwork” is a subject. The subject is the federal and state regulations.

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