A Subject-Verb Agreement Error

Can you spot the error in this sentence?

Overcharging for building materials after hurricanes and other natural disasters are illegal.  INCORRECT

The answer is that “are” should be “is”:

Overcharging for building materials after hurricanes and other natural disasters is illegal.  CORRECT

Today I’m going to offer you two explanations about the mistake. First I’ll use traditional grammar terminology. Then I’ll give you a more user-friendly way to fix it.

1.  A traditional grammarian might say that there’s a subject-verb agreement error. You need to remember to skip over the prepositional phrase. In today’s sentence, that’s the idea beginning with the preposition for:

Overcharging for building materials after hurricanes and other natural disasters is illegal.  CORRECT

Skip over that prepositional phrase, and you instantly know that you need is in today’s sentence: Overcharging…is illegal. (You can download and print a free handout about subject-verb agreement by clicking here.)

2.  OK – now for the easier way. In English, sentences are usually front-loaded. All the important stuff is at the beginning. So – in today’s sentence, you instantly know that overcharging is the word that really matters. Overcharging…is illegal. Easy!

Overcharging for building materials after hurricanes and other natural disasters is illegal.  CORRECT

Incidentally, looking at the beginning of a sentence can help you avoid many other writing problems. Click here to learn more.

 

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