Agreement is the relationship between a subject and its verb, or between a number or determiner and its noun; e.g. I look/she looks… one bell/three bells. It is also called concord. Agreement can also be seen as the relationship between words in gender, number, case, person, or any other grammatical category which affects the forms of the words.
Concord, as it is also often referred to, mainly focuses on subject-verb agreement. This is subdivided into three categories:
- Grammatical concord
- Concord of proximity
- Notional concord
Some Rules for Grammatical Concord
The grand rule of subject-verb concord is that a singular subject takes a singular verb and a plural subject takes a plural verb. And it is needful to establish this fact that singular verbs are inflected with suffix ‘-s’ while plural verbs maintain the base form. In other words, a singular verb ends with an ‘s’ and a plural verb has no ‘s’.
Let’s check some of the guiding rules under grammatical concord:
Rule 1: Singular subjects take singular verbs.
- The student advocates for free lunch after the extra mural lesson.
- A serious situation calls for a serious approach.
- The period between pregnancy and childbirth is sometimes critical.
- Anxiety solves no problem.
Rule 2: Plural subjects take plural verbs.
- The children wake up late every day.
- Serious issues call for serious approaches.
- The young boys on the pitch play
- What you see and how you react determine the outcome.
- My father and his friend believe in corporal punishment.
Note: The focus is on the subject of the verb, not what comes in between the subject and the verb.
Rule 3: When a subject is joined to another noun by subordinator, disregard the subjoined noun or noun phrase. Focus on the first noun.
- The chairman alongside other members visits the orphanage quarterly.
- The teachers with the principal encourage the students to perform well.
- The senior prefect, as well as, other students never likes the physics teacher.
From the examples above, we have two nouns in each subject slot as highlighted below:
- The chairman alongside other members …
- The teachers with the principal …
- The senior prefect, as well as, other students…
The subjoined nouns are members, principal and students. Going by the rules, the focus of the expression is on chairman, teachers and senior prefect. Hence, they determine the nature of the verbs. Moreover, the sentence can be restructured thus for further clarity:
- *Alongside other members, the chairman visits the orphanage quarterly.
- *With the principal, the teachers encourage the students to perform well.
So, the main subject determines the status of the verb.
- The man with his children attends to customers.
- The soldiers as well as the vigilante team watch over the small community.
Rule 4: When more than one is used as a subject of a verb in simple present tense, the verb should be singular because the headword is one.
- More than one man was asked to embark on the journey.
- More than one mango was shared among the children.
Rule 5: When two nouns refer to one person at the subject position, the verb should be singular, of course, because it is one person.
- My husband and boss never goes late for meetings.
- Here the speaker’s husband is also her boss. So, one pre-modifier us used for both nouns as it is one person. Compare, “My husband and my boss never go late to meeting”. Here, the speaker is referring to two different people.
- The president and Commander-in-chief of the armed forces lives his life fighting corruption.
- The class captain and best student of our set is just too proud.
Note: Always check for the pre-modifier when you have two nouns in the subject slot. When the nouns refer to one person, we use one pre-modifier.
Rule 6: When an indefinite pronoun pre-modifies a subject or acts as the main subject, the verb should be singular.
- Everyone loves to be respected.
- Every boy and girl loves his or her mother.
- Nobody cares for everybody’s job.
Rule 7: Some nouns end with ‘s’ but they are singular. You need to be careful because they are meant to go with singular verbs.
- Measles is caused by uncleanliness.
- Mathematics has been the problem of most students.
- Statistics was the only course accredited in that institution.
Rule 8: When a relative/adjectival clause qualifies a noun, the verb in the relative/adjectival clause works with the noun it qualifies.
For instance, ‘One of the girls that sit in the front row has been suspended’. ‘sit’ in the relative clause agrees with ‘girls’ as the relative clause, ‘that sit in the front row’ qualifies the noun, ‘girls’. Then, the main verb in the sentence ‘has’ agrees with ‘one’.
Semantically, it means many girls sit in the front row only one has been suspended.
- Algebra is one of the topics that confuse
- Dr Osoba is one of the lecturers who teach well in LASU.
Rule 8: when a generic reference is used with the definite article ‘the’ as a subject of the verb, the verb should be plural.
Generic reference is used when you make a reference to all the members of a class of people or things.
- The rich also cry.
- The less privileged look after one another.
- The young dream
- The wise don’t talk too much.
Rule 9: When a result of a survey is issued or reported, caution should be exercised to avoid error of overgeneralization.
For instance, ‘One in ten prefer coffee to tea’; Not, ‘One in ten prefers coffee to tea’. In the real sense, more than one person prefers coffee. So, if we have thirty-two people in a group and we say one in ten, it then means at least two. Such expressions attract the plural.
Other examples: One in every five boys go to the local cinema.
Rule 10. When an uncountable noun is introduced with a quantifier or percentage, it attracts a singular verb. In the same vein, when a countable noun is introduced in percentage, it goes with a plural verb.
- A quarter of the land is occupied by the aborigines.
- Two cups of flour is enough for the cake.
- Only ten percent of people in the world actually believe in self-actualization.
- A two-third of the ECOMOG forces were involved.
Rule 11. When a modal auxiliary verb precedes a main verb, the verb maintains the base form.
- The boy might come
- He came in so that we could discuss the issue.
- The matter should go to court.
Rule 12: Mandative Subjunctive: Mandative Subjunctive is used to express a demand, requirement, request, recommendation or suggestion. When it is used with either a the singular or the plural subject, the verb takes the base form:
- I recommend he attend the seminar alone.
- I pray she come early tomorrow.
- The board suggests the chairman resign immediately.