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Category : Common Mistakes

Subject-Verb Agreement: Not So Simple

The subject-verb agreement in a sentence seems simple on the surface, but this concept can trip up even those who should seemingly know better. Recently, I witnessed a thread on a popular social media platform. A friend of mind posted something similar to the following (the actual post and responses have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty): “Making muffins have helped my diet plan.” She then specifically called out an elementary school teacher to ask if she should have used the verb “have” or “has.” This teacher then pontificated at great length about how she chose correctly because “muffins” plural, making the choice of the plural verb “have” correct. Ummm… No.

So, let’s review subject-verb agreement, shall we? The simple case – singular verbs require the use of singular verb forms, and plural verbs require the use of plural verb forms. For example:
“The bird sings a beautiful song. The birds sing a beautiful song.”

A prepositional phrase or any other phrase separating the subject from the noun does not change the verb form. Take the following sentence as an example:
“The bird with the many colors sings a beautiful song.”

In our original example, the sentence is a little more tricky because the subject of the sentence is a gerund (i.e., “making muffins”), not “muffins.” Given that the subject is the gerund “making muffins,” the verb should be singular (i.e., “has”). Therefore, the correct sentence is “Making muffins has helped my diet plan.” If you think about the subject of the sentence as “the act of making muffins,” this makes identifying the need to use a singular verb more straightforward.

Honestly, there are several more factors to consider regarding subject-verb agreement. For example, certain sentences are formed in such a way that the subject comes after the verb (e.g., questions and sentences starting with “there” or “here”). For example:
“Where are the children?” “There are five girls on the team.” “Here is the plan for the game tonight.”

For a complete list of rules on subject-verb agreement, see a very good article by Your Dictionary (20 Rules of Subject Verb Agreement).

Remember that the only part of the sentence that can affect the verb is the subject.

Affect vs. Effect

Affect vs. Effect

The easiest way to remember the difference between affect and effect really depends on your learning style. I’m a functional learner, so it’s easiest for me to remember that affect is usually used as a verb, whereas effect is usually used as a noun.

The following examples illustrate this common usage:

Grammar Comic

The rainy conditions affected the outcome of the baseball game. In this case, affected is the verb. The conditions did something to the outcome. What did they do? They affected it.

The rain had a devastating effect on the pitcher’s ability to control the baseball game. In this case, effect is a noun. The rain had something. What did it have? It had an effect on the pitcher’s ability to control the game.

There are some cases in which effect is also used as a verb, rather than as a noun. When effect is used as a verb, it means to bring about or introduce something. Consider the following example: The general manager effected change in the momentum of the game by swapping out pitchers.

To differentiate between affect and effect when they’re both used as verbs, consider their object. Affect usually impacts or changes something tangible, whereas effect usually creates something or brings it into being.

If memorizing functions and definitions isn’t quite your style, try a mnemonic device to help you with the beginning letters such as, “The arrow affected the aardvark; the effect was eye popping.”

When all else fails, bookmark the Everything English blog where you can come get answers to all your common grammar questions!

Who versus Whom

Who versus Whom

S Nicholas

How can you tell when to use who and when to use whom? The easy trick is to use who when you don’t know. Whom is losing ground in the grammar community, much to the dismay of English lovers. However, who/whom is still important in formal writing, and the correct use is still expected.

A few simple tricks:

Whom is used after prepositions.
With whom did you sit? With is the preposition.
Remind me, to whom did you write that letter? To is the preposition.
You say by whom? By is the preposition.

Who is used in place of he or she. Whom is used in place of him or her.

Who bought a cat? SHE bought a cat. Who and she are interchangeable.

I can’t remember who wore the red shirt. I can’t remember if HE wore the red shirt. Only HE works as a replacement in this sentence. HIM doesn’t work at all.

You played ball with whom? You played ball with HIM. (And, since it’s after a preposition, you know whom is correct.)

Who is generally used as the subject of a sentence, whereas whom is used as the object of a verb. For people who are not acquainted with English rules, though, that is hard to remember because it requires knowledge of subject and objects.

I point back to the preposition rule and the he/she or him/her replacement rule. Much easier to remember!