Subject/Verb Agreement

Subject/ verb agreement means that subjects and verbs must agree with each other in number. In other words, this means that if the subject of a sentence is singular, the verb that goes with it needs to be singular as well, and if the subject is plural, the verb needs to be plural. Even though this seems pretty straightforward there are some situations in which using the right form of the verb could cause problems.

In the sentence, ‘My brother is taking the bus to school,’ for example, ‘brother’ is a singular noun so the singular verb ‘is’ needs to be used. However, in the sentence ‘My brother, as well as most of his friends, is taking the bus to school.’ It is a lot less clear whether a singular or a plural verb needs to be used. The following guidelines will help you make sure that your subjects agree with your verbs.

  1. When the subject is made up of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by and you need to use a plural verb. So,

       He and his sisters are on vacation.

  1. 2. When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by or or nor, you use a singular verb.

      The chairman or the secretary is at the meeting.

  1. When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is             nearer the verb.

            The owner or his employees go to the bank every day.


            The employees or the owner goes to the bank every day. 

  1. You may be misled by phrases that come between the subject and the verb, but you have to make sure that the verb agrees with the subject, not with a noun or             pronoun in the phrase.

One of the men is injured.

            The girl with all the dogs walks down the road.

  1. You should use singular verbs with the words: each, each one, either, neither, everyone, everybody, anybody, anyone, nobody, somebody, someone, and no one.

            Each of these books is good.

            Nobody ever calls the emergency number.

  1. Nouns such as mathematics, civics, euros, measles, and news also need singular verbs.

          The news comes on at ten.

Note: words like euros or, for example, dollars, are a special case. When you are             talking about an amount of money, you need to use a singular verb, but if you are             are referring to the euros or dollars themselves, so the currency, you need to use             a plural verb. So,

             Ten euros for a ticket sounds quite cheap.

            Euros are often used instead of pounds.

  1. You need to use plural verbs for nouns like scissors, tweezers, trousers, etc.

           Those trousers look very cool on you.

  1. When using sentences beginning with there is or there are, make sure the subject follows the verb. So,

            There are many possibilities.

            There is one option. 

  1. Collective nouns, so nouns that are considered singular but are usually made up of multiple members, like team, committee, class, family, etc. take a singular verb             when they operate together as a group . Like in:

            The team lifts weights a part of their practice.

            The committee votes on the proposal.

If the members of the group represented by the collective noun operate             independently, (so doing different things probably at different times) you should             use a plural verb. Like in:

            The class write their thesis papers this year.

This means that the people in the class write theses on different topic, probably             at different times during the year. They don’t operate in unison for the same goal.

  1. Finally, when you use expressions like including, accompanied by, in addition to, or as well, the number of the subject does not change. If the subject is singular, so             is the verb.

           The King, accompanied by the Queen, is visiting the Netherlands.

The History of the English Language

I found this video on the history of the English language that is both a pretty accurate and pretty funny summary of a semester-long course I took in college. If only YouTube had been around back then it would have saved me a lot of time because the content of this video is all I remember about the subject anyway. This is definitely worth watching.

Using Social Networks for Teaching English: Maybe Not

There has been a lot of discussion about the question whether social networks, like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter, should be adopted as tools for teaching English. Students nowadays spend much of their free time with these technologies and many teachers therefore feel that it is only logical for schools to capitalize on this phenomenon. Indeed, social networks could be useful for both sharing information and coordinating activities in an educational online setting, and over the last few years examples of this have become well-documented. Despite the fact that the benefits of using social networks for teaching English may seem obvious from a communication viewpoint, there are a number of ways in which social networks could have a negative effect on a student’s communication skills and could even hamper the language-learning process.

Much of the strength of using social networks lies in the fact that they enable students to express their ideas in a way that is easy, quick, and through a medium that is interactive and widely available. Online social networks allow students to learn about what interests them without help and offer them the opportunity to apply their knowledge in real-life situations. As a result students now read and write more than ever before. What should not be overlooked, however, is that social networks only provide a framework for communication. The quality of the communication that takes place often depends on the participants in the network and is impossible to control. This needn’t be a problem per say, but in many ways much of what takes place in social networks is not as life-like as it may seem, is not always of the desired quality, and may therefore not always be beneficial to the language-learning process.

Despite the name, social networks don’t require members to be very social and even allow users to behave in a way that would be considered inappropriate in other forms of spoken or written interaction. A reason for this is that communication in social networks is relatively anonymous and consequence free. Engaging in an online conversation is almost always optional and participants are often in a position to choose whether or not to participate in a conversation based on their own interests and on whom they want to interact with. Undesirable interaction can simply be avoided by either blocking the potential conversation partner or by simply choosing not to respond. Opting not to respond is often of little to no consequence because the relationships in the network are not likely to be as co-dependent or hierarchical in nature as in many other, especially work-related, situations in the offline world. For example, in a company it is important that a manager and his subordinate communicate in a manner suited for the type of relationship that they have. Both parties need to be respectful towards each other in order to maintain a healthy long-term working relationship. In other words, there is a need for both parties to get along. In social networks this need is not there due to the absence of co-dependent relationships. This has great consequences for the language that is used in terms of register and social etiquette.

The proper register for communication often is not used by the individuals in the network due to the aforementioned anonymity and the fact that it is often difficult to determine things like age, rank, and, sometimes even, gender. Because of this, people who are experts in a certain field, or who would be in a position of seniority or authority in an offline situation, are more likely to be seen as equals in online conversations, making the choice of the appropriate register and social etiquette not only difficult to determine, but also less relevant.

An additional factor that needs to be considered is that body language and the ability to read facial expressions have almost no role in interaction through social networks. The determination whether a conversation partner is angry or disappointed, for example, can only be based on the written text on the screen, making an appropriate response difficult and opportunities for a language learner to practice language that could be used in off-line social situations limited.

Another question that needs to be addressed is whether social networks are helpful for learning writing skills. Both reading and writing posts on social network sites happen fast and the entrees are generally short. The way many social networks sites are built does not encourage users to post well-structured, coherent arguments that take up more than a few sentences. In addition, responses to these posts also tend to be short, resulting in dialogues that hardly scratch the surface of the points the writers of the original posts were trying to make.

Finally, using networks that were designed for social interaction rather than professional might feel invasion of the student’s online personal space when being asked to use their social network for non-social purposes. After all, teachers wouldn’t ask their students to keep a log of their school activities in their personal diaries. An obvious alternative would of course be setting up a separate account on a social network for school-related activities only. However, that would make the whole concept of using social networks in a school setting quite forced and artificial.

In conclusion, I think it may be safe to conclude that social networks are a useful tool for sharing information and coordinating activities. Although they may also be a good practice ground for learning language appropriate for online communication, they are of little use in terms of teaching language appropriate in other situations.