Tag Archives: Subject-Verb Agreement

Florida’s Winged Elm

My husband is a professional writer who does two weekly gardening columns for our newspaper. Here’s a sentence he wrote for a recent column about winged elms (a popular tree in Central Florida). Does anything strike you as you read it?

One of few Florida natives that have recently burgeoned in popularity, this deciduous tree grows rapidly in sun or light shade, forming an upright, vase-shaped crown.

This sentence is an example of a hotly contested issue among English instructors and professional writers and editors. My camp says that the sentence is correct as written. But many experts would write the sentence this way, with has instead of have:

One of few Florida natives that has recently burgeoned in popularity, this deciduous tree grows rapidly in sun or light shade, forming an upright, vase-shaped crown.

Who’s right? I’ll leave it up to you. I used to allow my students to do it either way. (My husband – who wrote the sentence without discussing it with me – delighted me by coming down on my side of the question.)

But I’m convinced (of course!) that my way is the right way. Here’s my reasoning. See what you think:

1.  I ask myself what I see when I visualize the sentence.

This is one of my favorite ways to analyze a sentence and untangle a usage problem. What do I see here? “few Florida natives.” So I’d write it this way: “One of few Florida natives that have recently burgeoned in popularity…”

2.  I try rewording the sentence. Contrasting the two sentences can lead me to the correct verb.

One Florida native that ___ recently burgeoned in popularity….

One of few Florida natives that ___ recently burgeoned in popularity….

To me, these two clauses are different. The first is clearly about one native tree.  The second is more complex: The winged elm is one of several trees that recently burgeoned in popularity.

So I would write:

One Florida native that has recently burgeoned in popularity…

One of few Florida natives that have recently burgeoned in popularity…

What’s your take on this?

You can click here to download a free subject-verb agreement handout. Today’s issue is discussed in Rule 6.

Winged Elm

                        Winged Elm 

Share

Here Comes the Bride

Here is a question I get all the time: Is it correct to say “Here comes the bride”? And what do you say if you want to include the groom?

Here are the answers: “Here comes the bride” is correct. If you want to include the groom, you should say “Here come the bride and groom.”

Here is how you do it. (It’s easy!) Just flip the sentence around. This will work with any sentence that starts with “here” – and it also works with sentences that start with “there.” So you’re getting a two-for-the-price of one deal.

Flip the sentence around!

                         Flip the sentence around!

Let’s see how this “flip” works:

Here (comes, come) the bride.

The bride COMES here….Here comes the bride.  CORRECT

Here (comes, come) the bride and groom.

The bride and groom COME here….Here come the bride and groom.  CORRECT

Here comes the bride!

                       Here comes the bride!

Did you notice that I’ve sprinkled a few of these “Here…” sentences in today’s post? Let’s look at them.

Here (is, are) the answers.

The answers ARE here….Here are the answers.  CORRECT

Here (is, are) how you do it.

How you do it IS here…Here is how you do it.  CORRECT

(Grammar books love to make this sound hard with a lot of talk about demonstratives and singular and plural subjects and verbs. But none of that jargon is necessary. My “flip” trick will work every time.)

Let’s try a few with “there”:

There (is, are) a problem with your order.

A problem with your order IS there…There is a problem with your order.  CORRECT

There (goes, go) my ex with her new boyfriend.

My ex GOES there with her new boyfriend…There goes my ex with her new boyfriend.  CORRECT

One more thing: You can change here is to here’s and there is to there’s if you like. 

You can download a free subject-verb agreement handout that covers this rule and others by clicking here.

(Is, Are) there any questions?

Any questions ARE there…Are there any questions?  CORRECT  

Share

Prepositions

Many writers are wary of prepositions and prepositional phrases. They’ve got to be hard, right? After all, “prepositional” is a five-syllable mouthful of a word.

Well, there’s good news and bad news. Bad news first: Many writers make mistakes with prepositional phrases.

The good news? There’s an easy rule that will keep you out of trouble. And here’s even better news: There’s also an easier rule that works maybe 99.5% of the time.

Let’s get started.

Prepositions are small, everyday words that indicate direction or purpose. The English language has dozens of them. For now, let’s stick to six: in by for with to of.

Prepositions are rarely used by themselves. You wouldn’t say “I went skiing with.” Expressions like “with Mary,” “to the store,” “for a wedding gift, “by myself” and so on are prepositional phrases.

There are a couple of general rules of thumb that work really well with prepositional phrases. Take your pick! Either one will help you get your sentences right.

  • Skip the prepositional phrases to get the grammar right
  • Go to the beginning of the sentence.

Maybe once or twice a year you’ll come across a sentence that works differently. That means most of the time you can use one of these rules, and you’ll be fine. (If you’re curious about the exception, click here and read Rule 6.)

Let’s try a couple of examples.

The bookcase with the glass doors (need, needs) to be emptied and moved.

What will you be emptying and moving – the glass doors or the bookcase? You can either go to the beginning of the sentence (“bookcase”) or cross out “with the glass doors.”

If you go with crossing out “with the glass doors,” here’s what your sentence will look like:

The bookcase with the glass doors (need, needs) to be emptied and moved.

Answer: The bookcase NEEDS. So here’s your sentence:

The bookcase with the glass shelves needs to be emptied and moved. CORRECT

Let’s try another one:

Misunderstanding of department policies (have, has) caused many problems recently.

What caused the problems – department policies or misunderstanding? Again, you can either go to the beginning of the sentence (misunderstanding) or cross out “of departmental policies.”

Let’s try crossing out “of departmental policies”:

Misunderstanding of department policies (have, has) caused many problems recently.

Answer: Misunderstanding HAS. So here’s your sentence:

Misunderstanding of department policies has caused many problems recently. CORRECT

To learn more about prepositional phrases, click here and read Rule 4.

One more thought: There’s a reason why writers often have difficulty with prepositional phrases. Most people aren’t used to thinking about parts of sentences. It’s not a normal activity. (When was the last time you found yourself thinking, “Hey! That was a prepositional phrase!” during a conversation?)

You’re learning a new skill. Be patient with yourself, and keep reviewing and practicing. After a while it will become second nature. That’s a promise!

 

Share

Watch out for These Common Errors in English

You may have heard of a movie called The Kids Are All Right. Our local newspaper reprints news releases about the movie with all right spelled correctly.

But the local journalist who does our headlines (and who seems to be on a personal mission to drive me crazy) always changes the title of the movie to The Kids Are Alright. It doesn’t seem to matter that the movie title of the movie is spelled correctly in the first sentence of the news story that follows.

All right is always two words (at least in the United States – the United Kingdom is rapidly moving to the Dark Side on this one).

Here are few more fingernails-on-a-chalkboard common errors in English that we should all avoid:

“I feel badly.”
Nope. You feel bad. “Feel badly” means the nerve endings in your fingertips are damaged. (Similarly, you don’t “look well” in a particular color or garment: You “look good.” Clothing doesn’t enhance your vision.)

“I could care less.”
Nope. It should be I couldn’t care less – meaning that your level of engagement with the issue is so close to zero that it couldn’t go any lower.

“It’s comprised of representatives from every charitable organization.”
Nope. It’s composed of. “Comprise” means “includes”: It comprises representatives from every charitable organization.

“It’s very unique.”
Nope. It’s very unusual. “Unique” and “unusual” aren’t synonyms. Unique means one-of-a-kind. My fingerprints are unique, but they’re not at all unusual.

 

Share