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Why the Subject and the Verb do not Always Agree with one Another

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We show you why it is not always easy to differentiate between singular and plural nouns, as some rare cases can be both.

Nouns with singular and plural verb form
Collective nouns can be combined with verbs in their singular or plural forms

Occasionally, the most basic grammar rules cause the highest confusion among language users. Such is the case when it comes to exceptions to linguistic norms. One great example is the dependency of the verb’s ending on its referential person.

In linguistics, modifying the verb ending according to its agent(s) is called verb-subject-agreement.

How can we Distinguish Plural from Singular Nouns?

Most nouns have two forms: their singular realization and their plural form (usually with an -s at the end). In some cases, words exist just in plural form, while others strictly require a singular verb form:

Nouns only in plural form Nouns only in singular form
Tools, instruments, and pieces of clothing (binoculars, scissors, jeans, glasses etc.) Every uncountable noun (furniture, advice, milk, money, news etc.)

The verb-subject-agreement becomes even more confusing when you combine nouns with other nouns. You should always reconsider the two possible forms for each case:

There was a herd of sheep fleeing from the wolf.
(Traditionally singular form only; regionally plural)
Different teams of experts are dealing with the problem.
(Plural form only)

Can Nouns be Both Singular and Plural at the Same Time?

For native speakers, using the correct verb form shouldn’t be that much of a problem. However, in some cases, distinguishing between singular and plural nouns might carry some room for potential confusion. These are referred to as collective nouns.

The Olympic Committee was welcoming all the athletes last week.
The Olympic Committee were cheering enthusiastically.

Collective nouns stand for one entity or group of individuals. That is the reason it is possible to use them both in singular and in plural. It depends on the focus:

Singular: Emphasis on the group or amount itself

Plural: Emphasis on each individual member

Other collective nouns are for instance: audience, government, team, or specific clubs. Unit words for money, distance, and time may appear in both realizations, too.

Compare

Three hundred dollars is a lot of money for a new pair of shoes.

There are only three hundred dollars left on their family account.

Every time you are not sure about the verb form needed in your sentence, LanguageTool can serve as an easy-to-use device. It helps you in the world of irregular plural forms, collective nouns, and verb-subject-agreement. Only if your subjects agree with the verbs, the reader will agree to your text.


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