Subjects, Verbs, and the New York Times

A friend who works in a library saves the discarded New York Times Magazines for me, and I read them in the evenings before I go to bed. (I’m including that explanation in case you’re wondering why it took so long for me to get to a magazine article published last November.)

Last week I read a fascinating article about the man who allegedly killed President Kennedy (Lee Harvey Oswald Was My Friend). Oops! A subject-verb agreement error slipped through. See if you can spot it:

The opening of formerly secret archives in Russia indicate that the K.G.B. didn’t want to recruit Oswald.

Did you find it? “Opening…indicate.” It should read “opening…indicates”:

The opening of formerly secret archives in Russia indicates that the K.G.B. didn’t want to recruit Oswald.

I spent a couple of minutes muttering about the disappearance of copyeditors – lo, how the mighty have fallen! And then I remembered that one of my favorite writers, Theodore Bernstein, used to work for the Times, and he compiled an in-house newsletter called Winners & Sinners where he pointed out these lapses. So it’s not a new problem.

But it’s avoidable. You can read about subject-verb agreement here. There are only six rules, and they’re pretty easy to learn.

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