Subject–Verb Agreement, Phrases as Subjects

In the previous two sections, we have learned the rules that govern subject–verb agreement for simple subjects and compound subjects. Now let us turn our attention to subjects involving prepositional phrases or that are infinitives, gerunds, or subordinate clauses.

Subjects made of phrases

While dealing with subject phrases involving noun phrases or prepositional phrases, identify the simple subject. Once the simple subject is identified, the situation is now simplified to the first case – dealing with simple subjects.

SVA 3.1 With prepositional phrases

Ignore the prepositional phrases that follow the simple subject. Many a time, the object of the preposition may be different from the subject in terms of number and in turn may mislead agreement.

  • Blood samples from patients consenting to participate were taken to measure 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 levels.
  • The difference in the serum 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels between the study and control groups was not significant.

SVA 3.2 With relative clauses

A simple subject may be followed by a relative clause. Ensure that the subject and verb agree both in the main clause (ignoring the relative clause) and in the relative clause.

  • The increase in the perimeter of the arms that accompany the actual motion has not been considered.

In the above example, the subject of the main clause – increase – is singular and hence the verb is has not been considered. The subject of the relative clause “arms that accompany the actual motion” is arms, a plural noun. Hence its verb is plural – accompany.

Another example:

  • Firefighters were trying to rescue a woman who was trapped in the car.

The subject and the verb in the main clause – firefighters and were trying – are both plural and in agreement. Those in the relative clause – a woman and was trapped – are both singular and in agreement.

SVA 3.3 With appositives

I hope you remember an appositive; it is a noun or a noun phrase that describes or renames another noun and is placed either before or after the described (renamed) noun.

For example, in the phrase lion, the king of the jungle, the phrase the king of the jungle is an appositive of lion.

While checking for agreement, appositives following the simple subjects should be ignored.

  • The lion, the king of the jungle, lives in prides.

SVA 3.2 Gerunds, infinitives, and subordinate clauses as subjects

As we know, gerunds, infinitives, and subordinate clauses are considered uncountable and hence take singular verbs.

  • Drinking water at regular intervals is good for health.
  • To keep a check on the time has proved to be difficult for me.
  • That she is a capable editor is known to everyone.

The first two examples are straightforward. However consider the third one, with a subordinate clause as the subject. By syntax, the subordinate clause has a subject and a verb; the main clause has a subject and a verb too.

In the above example, the subordinate clause is that she is a capable editor; the subject here is she and the verb is is. The entire subordinate clause acts as the subject of the main clause. By definition, it is considered uncountable. Hence the choice of the singular verb is.

In this section, we have seen how phrases form subjects and how their verb agreement is decided. Let’s take the quiz to check our understanding.

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