The basic idea behind sentence agreement is pretty simple: all the parts of your sentence should match (or agree). Verbs need to agree with their subjects in number (singular or plural) and in person (first, second, or third). In order to check agreement, you simply need to find the verb and ask who or what is doing the action of that verb.
Agreement based on grammatical person (first, second, or third person) is found mostly between verb and subject. For example, you can say “I am” or “he is,” but not “I is” or “he am.” This is because the grammar of the language requires that the verb and its subject agree in person. The pronouns I and he are first and third person respectively, as are the verb forms am and is. The verb form must be selected so that it has the same person as the subject.
Agreement based on grammatical number can occur between verb and subject, as in the case of grammatical person discussed above. In fact the two categories are often conflated within verb conjugation patterns: there are specific verb forms for first person singular, second person plural and so on. Some examples:
- I really am (1st pers. singular) vs. We really are (1st pers. plural)
- The boy sings (3rd pers. singular) vs. The boys sing (3rd pers. plural)
Compound subjects are plural, and their verbs should agree. Look at the following sentence for an example:
A pencil, a backpack, and a notebook were issued to each student.
Verbs will never agree with nouns that are in prepositional phrases. To make verbs agree with their subjects, follow this example:
The direction of the three plays is the topic of my talk.
The subject of “my talk” is direction, not plays, so the verb should be singular.
In the English language, verbs usually follow subjects. But when this order is reversed, the writer must make the verb agree with the subject, not with a noun that happens to precede it. For example:
Beside the house stand sheds filled with tools.
The subject is sheds; it is plural, so the verb must be stand.
All regular verbs (and nearly all irregular ones) in English agree in the third-person singular of the present indicative by adding a suffix of either -s or -es.
Look at the present tense of to love, for example:
|First||I love||we love|
|Second||you love||you love|
|Third||he/she/it loves||they love|
The highly irregular verb to be is the only verb with more agreement than this in the present tense:
|First||I am||we are|
|Second||you are||you are|
|Third||he/she/it is||they are|
Choose the correct verb to make the sentences agree:
- Ann (walk / walks) really slowly.
- You (is / am / are) dating Tom?
- Donna and April (get / gets) along well.
- Chris and Ben (is / am / are) the best duo this company has ever seen.
- Ann walks really slowly.
- Ann is a singular, third-person subject.
- You are dating Tom?
- You is a singular, second-person subject.
- Donna and April get along well.
- Donna and April is a plural, third-person subject.
- Chris and Ben are the best duo this company has ever seen.
- Chris and Ben is a plural, third-person subject.
One of the most common mistakes in writing is a lack of tense consistency. Writers often start a sentence in one tense but ended up in another. Look back at that sentence. Do you see the error? The first verb start is in the present tense, but ended is in the past tense. The correct version of the sentence would be “Writers often start a sentence in one tense but end up in another.”
These mistakes often occur when writers change their minds halfway through writing the sentence, or when they come back and make changes but only end up changing half the sentence. It is very important to maintain a consistent tense, not just in a sentence but across paragraphs and pages. Decide if something happened, is happening, or will happen and then stick with that choice.
Read through the following paragraphs. Can you spot the errors in tense? Type your corrected passage in the text frame below:
If you want to pick up a new outdoor activity, hiking is a great option to consider. It’s a sport that is suited for a beginner or an expert—it just depended on the difficulty hikes you choose. However, even the earliest beginners can complete difficult hikes if they pace themselves and were physically fit.
Not only is hiking an easy activity to pick up, it also will have some great payoffs. As you walked through canyons and climbed up mountains, you can see things that you wouldn’t otherwise. The views are breathtaking, and you will get a great opportunity to meditate on the world and your role in it. The summit of a mountain is unlike any other place in the world.
As we mentioned earlier, you want to make sure your whole passage is consistent in its tense. You may have noticed that the most of the verbs in this passage are in present tense; we’ve edited the passage be consistently in the present tense. All edited verbs have been bolded:
If you want to pick up a new outdoor activity, hiking is a great option to consider. (1) It’s a sport that can be suited for a beginner or an expert—it just depends on the difficulty hikes you choose. However, even the earliest beginners can complete difficult hikes (2) if they pace themselves and are physically fit.
(3) Not only is hiking an easy activity to pick up, it also has some great payoffs. (4) As you walk through canyons and climb up mountains, you can see things that you wouldn’t otherwise. (5) The views are breathtaking, and you get a great opportunity to meditate on the world and your role in it. The summit of a mountain is unlike any other place in the world.
Here’s each original sentence, along with an explanation for the changes:
- It’s a sport that is suited for a beginner or an expert—it just depended on the difficulty hikes you choose.
- depended should be the same tense as is; it just depends on the difficulty
- if they pace themselves and were physically fit.
- were should be the same tense as pace; if they pace themselves and are physically fit.
- Not only is hiking an easy activity to pick up, it also will have some great payoffs.
- will have should be the same tense as is; it also has some great pay offs
- As you walked through canyons and climbed up mountains
- walked and climbed are both past tense, but this doesn’t match the tense of the passage as a whole. They should both be changed to present tense: As you walk through canyons and climb up mountains.
- The views are breathtaking, and you will get a great opportunity to meditate on the world and your role in it.
- will get should be the same tense as are; you get a great opportunity
Read the following sentences and identify any errors in verb tense. Type your corrections in the text frame below:
- Whenever Maudeline goes to the grocery store, she had made a list and stick to it.
- This experiment turned out to be much more complicated than Felipe thought it would be. It ended up being a procedure that was seventeen steps long, instead of the original eight that he had planned.
- I applied to some of the most prestigious medical schools. I hope the essays I write get me in!
- had made and stick do not match the present tense that was set up by goes. The sentence should read, “Whenever Maudeline goes to the store, she makes a list and sticks to it.”
- This sentence is correct.
- applied and write do not match tense. If you’ve already applied, hopefully you’ve already written your essays as well! The sentences should read, “I applied to some of the most prestigious medical schools. I hope the essays I wrote get me in!”