Language

La Trobe University

Language

Achieve@Uni
La Trobe University

Language

Achieve@Uni
La Trobe University

Language

Achieve@Uni

Subjects and verbs

Subjects and verbs

In academic writing, a complete sentence must have at least one subject and one verb (sometimes referred to as a subject and a predicate or a noun phrase and a verb phrase).

The subject can take many forms as can be seen in the table below where subjects are in (red) and verbs in *blue* (The examples are adapted from Jane Austen’s novels Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice).

(Vanity) *was* the beginning and end of Sir Walter’s character. 

(He) *wasa very selfish man.

(His constant preening) *had been* annoying.

(Looking at his reflection in the mirror*was* all that he seemed to do.

Looking at his reflection in the mirror, (he) *adjusted* his clothes again. 

(That he had accumulated a large debt) *was known* to everyone.

(Everything his daughter proposed) *was* rejected. 

(It) *is* a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

 

Subjects and their verbs have a close relationship, but if something comes in front of a subject, then it needs to be separated with a comma:

Seeing that it was Thursday, Emma was eager to see her friend Miss Smith.

Since meeting the captain, she felt she had a friend for life.

There will be a comma between the subject and the verb if additional (non-essential) information describes the verb:

Emma, who was young, rich and pretty, was unaware she had insulted her friend.

However when the information is necessary to identify the subject, then no comma is needed:

Soldiers who were stationed in the village were known to the family. [This sentence is about those soldiers who were stationed in the village, not all soldiers]

 

Read more about these types of sentences in 10 Common Mistakes in Student Writing.

Subjects and verbs activity

Below are a jumble of subjects and verbs and phrases without any punctuation. Put them together to make six complete sentences and see how the sentences are punctuated.

Select any two phrases in the right order to automatically create a sentence.

NOTE: Subject is red. Verb is blue.

Select your first phrase from the list below.
that the rich live longer than the poor
reading journal articles
the poor state of the county's health care system
seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence
excavating a hidden cave in Queensland, anthropologists
produces every sort of mischief
reflects the current economic circumstances
found thousands of artefacts
enables students to learn how academic texts are constructed
requires little explanation
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition
is easier than to lead
vanity working on a weak head
to follow

Subject and verb agreement

In any sentence, the subject must agree with the verb. To find out what this means, take a look at the some of the rules and examples that govern subject verb agreement below, then complete the exercises that follow.

Rule 1: Subjects and verbs must agree in number:

The sea eagle swoops to catch its prey. Sea eagles swoop to catch their prey.

Rule 2: Subjects and verbs must agree in person (I, you, he/she/it, we, they)

I am unable to understand the lecture. He is unable to understand the lecture.

Rule 3: Only the subject (colours) not the prepositional phrase (of a rainbow) affects the verb.

The colours of a rainbow are caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water. 

Rule 4: Phrases such as together with, as well as and along with may mean the same as and but they do not work the same way grammatically. While they modify the subject they do not make it plural if the subject is singular.

High blood pressure, together with obesity, is a key risk factor for many chronic diseases.

Rule 5: If the subject is uncountable or a unit of measurement or time it takes the singular.

Happiness is elusive. Water is essential to life on this planet.

Twenty kilometres per litre is the average fuel consumption for a hybrid car. 

Rule 6: The verb in a sentence which contains – or, nor, neither … nor, either … or, not only … but also – agrees with the part of the subject closest to it (kingfishers, eagle and kingfishers in the sentences below).

Not only kookaburras but also other kingfishers are carnivorous.

Not only the kookaburra but also the eagle is carnivorous.

Not only the kookaburra but also other kingfishers are carnivorous.

Subject Verb Agreement Activity

Choose the correct form of the verb in each sentence

1. In Jane Austen's novel Persuasion, the navy represent represents a new class of men whose rise to social power is based on merit rather than inheritance.

Your response is correct. Why? The subject in the sentence is the navy which is singular so takes the verb represents. [see rule 1]
Sorry, your response is incorrect. Why? The subject in the sentence is the navy which is singular so takes the verb represents. [see rule 1]

2. I read much 18th century literature while my sister read reads mainly contemporary novels.

Your response is correct. Why? The subject of the first clause, I, is a first person pronoun and so takes the verb read while the subject of the second clause my sister is third person noun (equivalent to she) and so takes the verb reads. [see rule 2]
Sorry, your response is incorrect. Why? The subject of the first clause, I, is a first person pronoun and so takes the verb read while the subject of the second clause my sister is third person noun (equivalent to she) and so takes the verb reads. [see rule 2]

3. Sir Walter Elliot is only one of the characters who are is governed by self-interest.

Your response is correct. Why? Sir Walter Elliot is singular and the who which also refers to Sir Walter Elliot (and not the characters) is also singular; therefore, the verb in both cases is the same (is). [see rules 1 and 3]
Sorry, your response is incorrect. Why? Sir Walter Elliot is singular and the who which also refers to Sir Walter Elliot (and not the characters) is also singular; therefore, the verb in both cases is the same (is). [see rules 1 and 3]

4. He, along with Mr William Elliot and Mrs Clay, remain remains essentially unchanged throughout the novel.

Your response is correct. Why? The subject in the sentence is He which is singular. The phrase that comes after it – along with Mr William Elliot and Mrs Clay –does not work to make the subject plural in the way the word and would do. Take care when using phrases such as along with or as well as, while they might mean the same as and but they do not work in the same way in a sentence. [see rule 4]
Sorry, your response is incorrect. Why? The subject in the sentence is He which is singular. The phrase that comes after it – along with Mr William Elliot and Mrs Clay –does not work to make the subject plural in the way the word and would do. Take care when using phrases such as along with or as well as, while they might mean the same as and but they do not work in the same way in a sentence. [see rule 4]

5. One of the characters in the novel is are seriously injured.

Your response is correct. Why? The subject in the sentence is One which is singular. The phrase, which follows, provides additional information about the one but is not the subject (Q. One of what? A: One of the characters in the novel). [see rule 3]
Sorry, your response is incorrect. Why? The subject in the sentence is One which is singular. The phrase, which follows, provides additional information about the one but is not the subject (Q. One of what? A: One of the characters in the novel). [see rule 3]

6. Neither Sir Walter Elliot nor his elder daughter Elizabeth appreciates appreciate the true merit of Ann.

Your response is correct. Why? Elizabeth is the part of the subject closest to the verb and is singular; therefore the verb is appreciates. [see rule 6]
Sorry, your response is incorrect. Why? Elizabeth is the part of the subject closest to the verb and is singular; therefore the verb is appreciates. [see rule 6]

7. Not only Ann Elliot but also the Musgrove sisters believe believes that Captain Wentworth is in love with Louisa.

Your response is correct. Why? With paired conjunctions such as either ... or and not only ... but also, the part of the subject closest to the verb, in this case, the plural Musgrove sisters, determines whether the verb will be singular or plural. [see rule 6]
Sorry, your response is incorrect. Why? With paired conjunctions such as either ... or and not only ... but also, the part of the subject closest to the verb, in this case, the plural Musgrove sisters, determines whether the verb will be singular or plural. [see rule 6]

8. There are is much kindness shown by Ann Elliot to her poor and invalid friend Mrs Smith; very little capacity for kindness are is demonstrated by anyone else in the Elliot family.

Your response is correct. Why? Kindness is uncountable (it is not possible to have one much kindness or two much kindness; three little kindness or four little kindness) so it is singular. [see rule 5]
Sorry, your response is incorrect. Why? Kindness is uncountable (it is not possible to have one much kindness or two much kindness; three little kindness or four little kindness) so it is singular. [see rule 5]

9. Eight years is are a long time for Ann Elliot and Frederick Wentworth to have been apart.

Your response is correct. Why? The quantity eight years is meant to be taken as one unit of quantity (not eight separate years but one eight-year period) and therefore takes a singular verb. [see rule 5]
Sorry, your response is incorrect. Why? The quantity eight years is meant to be taken as one unit of quantity (not eight separate years but one eight-year period) and therefore takes a singular verb. [see rule 5]

10. The politics of the 18th Century plays play no role in Jane Austen's novels but domestic politics does do.

Your response is correct. Why? Politics is uncountable and therefore takes the singular form. [see rule 5]
Sorry, your response is incorrect. Why? Politics is uncountable and therefore takes the singular form. [see rule 5]

11. Not only method, moderation and economy was were practised at Kellynch Hall while Lady Elliot lived, but charity was also displayed.

Your response is correct. Why? In this sentence, method, moderation and economy is uncountable both collectively and individually and so takes a singular verb. Charity too is uncountable and does the same (was/was)[see rule 5]
Sorry, your response is incorrect. Why? In this sentence, method, moderation and economy is uncountable both collectively and individually and so takes a singular verb. Charity too is uncountable and does the same (was/was)[see rule 5]

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