Subject-Verb Agreement

Lesson 2.1

Subject-Verb Agreement

Unlike in some other languages, it is conventional in English to place the most important word, the word that denotes the topic of the sentence, what we plan to talk about in the rest of the sentence at the very beginning.

Thus:

Trivandrum is the capital of Kerala.

when the topic is Trivandrum,

but,

Kerala’s capital is Trivandrum.

when the topic is Kerala.

Now, what is the another word for ‘topic’.

Yes, ‘subject’.

This is how it gets its name. It is mostly placed in the beginning of the sentence. It could be one word or many.

Examples:

1. My uncle’s neighbour’s wife works abroad. (Subject: My uncle’s neighbour’s wife, because she is the topic of discussion.)

2. His favourite English author is Virginia Wolf. (Subject: His favourite English author, because we are talking about that author in the rest of the sentence.)

Whatever comes after the subject is the predicate.

Good communication is supposed to follow three golden steps. Whether you are making a speech, writing a letter or even a single sentence, it is good to follow those steps. Right from those sales girls who come to sell knick-knacks at your door step to CEOs like Sundar Pichai and Sathya Nadella, all sales people are taught these steps, because communication is very important in business.

The golden steps:

1. Tell them what you are going to tell them. (the subject)

2. Tell them. (the predicate)

3. Tell them you have told them. (the full stop or a change in tone)

Now, here is a tricky question.

What kind of words does the predicate start with?

You will find that, in most cases, it starts with the 11 grammar words we discussed.

is are am was were has have had do does did

In some cases you may also find,

will would shall should can could may might

There is not much to discuss the second group since there aren’t many rules about them. Common sense is good enough.

So, let us say, the predicates start with these 19 words.

What if these words come not before the predicate but before the subject?

Then we have questions!
See:

1.(They are coming home.)

Are they coming home?

2.(Doctors have cured them.)

Have doctors cured them?

3.(Girls were dancing.)

Were girls dancing?

4.(He killed a snake.) (did is hidden in killed)

Did he kill a snake?

5. (She sings Hindi songs.) (does is hidden in sings)

Does she sing Hindi songs?

This is a very important rule in English but this rule is flouted very often.

Even when the sentence begins with a question word like ‘where, why, which, what, when or how’ we have to follow this rule.

So,

1. Where are you going?

2. Why is he doing that?

3. Which was his choice?

4. What do you call a young cat?

5. When is the show?

6. How did he do that?

Now, let’s refer to the 19 words from now on as OPERATIVES.

Most of the operatives are visible but ‘do does and did’ hide in other words. We have seen that.
How can we find them when they are hidden?

All sentences have operatives in them. When you don’t see an operative, you can be sure it is hiding. Just stare at the verb.

When you spot an ‘s’ at the end of a verb, you can be sure that ‘does’ is hiding in it.

If you see a ‘d’ at the end of a verb, ‘did’ is hiding in it. (or if the verb is in the past tense)

When you fail to find either of these, ‘do’ is hiding in it.

There is another way to find them. Try adding ‘not’ to the sentence, they unfailingly come out!

Now let’s do some practice!

Exercise 1

Add ‘not’ to these sentence to deny them.

1. My father works abroad.

2. She liked the food.

3. We play cricket every day.

4. My uncle lives in China.

5. Her neighbour organised a party.

6. They come here every day.

Exercise 2

Identify the subject in the following sentences.

1. A car is coming up the drive way.

2. Many of my friends have become writers.

3. Sam is good at games.

4. Many people have failed in this.

5. William Shakespeare was a great writer.

Exercise 3

Identify the predicate in the following sentences.

1. Wordsworth was a good poet.

2. Sugar tastes sweet.

3. Bird fly.

4. The number of deaths in the disaster was astounding.

5. Birds do not fly.

Exercise 4

Correct the following questions.

1. When he will come over?

2. Why they are not listening to you?

3. How old you are?

4. Where he is going to settle down?

5. How we can remedy this problem?

Exercise 5

Find the operatives in the following sentences.

1. Where is he going?

2. She sings very well.

3. I have seen him many times.

4. We copied the answer.

5. They like Tamil songs.

6. I ordered him to go out.

7. He asked several questions yesterday.

8. She was reading very well.

9. It works fine.

10. People want jobs.

Coming up…

Two compulsory grammar problems in all tests

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