Sibia Proofreading Blog

Subject-Verb Agreement in Longer Sentences

Dona Le - Friday, December 25, 2009

One commonly committed mistake in writing includes violating the rules of subject-verb agreement. These errors are quite basic and easy to discern, so continue below to discover how you can avoid making them.

Make sure that the verb you use is always conjugated correctly, given the subject of your sentence. For example, “Smith et al. claim,” but “one researcher claims….”  Usually, when the subject and verb are directly next to one another, any mistakes can be easy to discern.

The issue arises in more complicated sentences in which the subject and verb may be separated by a descriptive clause, for example. In such cases, some writers make the mistake of matching the verb with the word that immediately precedes it.  Sound confusing?  The example below should help.

Example: The medication prescribed by many doctors were in fact harmful.

The subject of the sentence is “the medication.”  The verb is “to be,” conjugated in the sentence above as “were.”

As “the medication” is a singular noun, the corresponding verb should be conjugated as “was.”

However, because “doctors” precedes the sentence’s verb, some writers may not catch this mistake. Instead, under careless proofreading, “doctors were” looks correct.

The above example should in fact be rewritten:

Correction: The medication prescribed by many doctors was in fact harmful.

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