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Test PrepSATWritingSubject/Verb Agreement

SAT Writing Skill Review: Subject/Verb Agreement

The test writers love to write questions which test your knowledge of subject/verb agreement. You’ll quickly discover this is true for both Error ID and Improve the Sentence types of questions. The rule is simple: a subject must agree with the verb!


Take the sentence: The cow jumps over the moon. You must write the cow jumps instead of the cow jump because a singular subject (the cow) takes a singular verb (jumps).

So, if the rule is so simple, how do test-writers write their questions so at least a few test-takers select the incorrect response? They make their questions trickier by inserting prepositional phrases between the subject and the verb and masking the true subject. Don’t fall into their trap! Just ignore the prepositional phrase, identify the correct subject and make sure it agrees with the verb.

Here’s another example: One of the girls likes the movie. In this case, your subject is one (singular) and not the girls (plural), thus the verb likes must also be singular.

Another way the test-writers can confuse the issue is to use pronouns that are harder to identify as singular or plural. For example, the following pronouns are singular: each, either, neither, someone, somebody, everyone, everybody, anyone, anybody, no one, and nobody. Here are two examples:

Neither of the movies was very good.
Each of us is fond of chocolate.

However, when two or more subjects are joined by and, you must use a plural verb. When two or more subjects are joined by or or nor, the verb agrees with the subject nearest the verb. Finally, amounts are usually singular, as are titles. Here are some examples:

Hiking and camping are fun.
Neither the players nor the coach is late for practice.
Two hours is a long time to wait.
Great Expectations is a great book.

Examples

Try the following examples for practice.

Answers and Explanations

  1. The correct answer is D. The subject (Help) is singular and therefore requires a singular verb (is, not are). The prepositional phrase (for improving test-taking skills and reading skills) is meant to trick you because it’s plural. It’s also long so that by the time you reach the verb, you’ve lost track of the subject, so be careful! It may help to actually bracket out (or cross out) all the stuff that comes between the subject and the verb to make it easier to check agreement. For example:

    Help [for improving test-taking skills and reading skills] are also available.
    Help for improving test-taking skills and reading skills are also available.

  2. The correct answer is A. There is no error in the sentence as it is written. It’s difficult to look for something that isn’t there (i.e., an error), so eliminate the other answer choices one by one. Choice B changes were to was, or a plural verb to a singular verb. This is a good tip-off to check the subject. In this case, you have two subjects — the cruise (singular) and the sights (plural) — joined by nor. The subject closest to the verb determines whether the verb should be in singular or plural form. In this case, it must be plural. This same mistake is repeated in choices D and E, so you just have to check out choice C. Choice C changes we visited to we had been to visit which is unnecessarily wordy as well as passive. Choice A is best.

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