Business Writing Essentials

Match Verbs

When readers arrive at a plural verb, but they know the subject is singular, they have to fix the problem mentally while continuing to read. You should spare them that much work. You need to watch for tricky situations, and you should consider adopting unique editing techniques.

Tricky Situation 1

When two nouns are joined by or or nor, the noun closest to the verb determines whether the verb should be singular or plural:

Either her sisters or Amy pays for upkeep.

Neither Amy nor her sisters eat breakfast.

Tricky Situation 2

Collective nouns can act as a unit (singular) or identify multiple members (plural):

Our crew meets tonight.

Crew members travel tomorrow.

Second, you have to watch for the most common problem: distance. When the verb is way down the sentence, long after the subject, you can easily make the mistake of letting the verb match something nearer to it. To catch this stuff, you have to edit your writing. That's right, you have to go over it again.

Editing Technique 1

Print it out. Quickly underline the subject of each sentence. Quickly circle each verb. For a split second consider whether the verb matches the subject you underlined.

Everyone in the organization, including my colleagues, ( understand ) that we want to maintain a learning culture.

It should be:   Everyone ... understands

Editing Technique 2

Out loud or in your mind, quickly read the words in each sentence. Mumble nonsense syllables, such as "dah deh dah" or "yada yada," when reading through the words in between each subject and verb. For a split second consider whether the verb matches the subject.

Bob's group in external affairs, also known as public relations, often have the best solution.

It should be:   ... group ... has ...

It takes time to become consistently correct with editing like this. Good luck.

Lesson: Match Verbs
Module: Grammar
Course: Business Writing Essentials