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Tricky Subject-Verb Agreement

In sentences, verbs express the action of a sentence while the subject expresses who or what does the action. The subjects and verbs of sentences must agree in number and gender, which is called subject-verb (s-v) agreement.


In a simple sentence, the subject of a sentence begins the sentence and is immediately followed by the verb, making it easy to ensure that the verb agrees with its subject. However, in more complex sentence types, the verb can be separated from the subject by several words, which can create subject-verb disagreement. The sentence below shows one such example.


Sentence: Each of the NARRATIVES WERE SHARED during a semi-structured interview and lasted between one to two hours.


Edited Sentence: EACH of the narratives WAS SHARED during a semi-structured interview and lasted between one to two hours.


Many writers make a verb agree with the noun or pronoun closest to it. Yet, sophisticated sentence structure types have several nouns/pronouns in them, so a writer must ensure that the noun/pronoun closest to a verb is the actual subject of the sentence.


In the original sentence above, s-v disagreement occurs because the verb agrees with the noun closest to it (the plural verb phrase “were shared” agrees with the plural noun “narratives”). However, “narratives” is not the subject of the sentence; the pronoun “each” is the subject. In the edited sentence, the verb is changed to the singular tense “was shared” so that it agrees with the subject of the sentence ("each:" each "was shared," not each "were shared").


Remember, the noun closest to the verb sometimes is the subject of the sentence; other times, it is not!


Until next week, happy writing!


Dr. V





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