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Noun-Verb Agreement: Some Special Cases



The basic grammar rule requires the verb to agree with the subject-noun. Singular nouns take singular verbs, plural nouns take plural verbs, uncountable nouns take singular verbs too.
But there are some exceptions of that rule:

A million dollars is a lot of money.
(We think about 'million dollars' as an amount, not as many individual dollars.)

Vegetables and fruit are good for your health.
Vegetables and fruit is a typical diet for vegetarians.
(The first verb is plural because there are two nouns in the subject.
The second verb is singular because we think about vegetables and fruit as a diet, not as two separate items.)

Plural titles of books and films take a singular verb for the same reason:
War and Peace
is a great Russian novel. The Brothers Karamazov
is another.

In British English there are some singular nouns which can take plural verbs. These are called collective nouns because they refer to a group or collection of people, animals or things.

(collective noun + singular or plural verb):
The team has reached the number 1 position.
The team have all played well together.
(The choice of verb form depends on whether we think of the team as one group or as various
individual people).

Some more collective nouns that can be either singular or plural in British English:
audience, class, company, crew, family, government, group,…

In American English collective nouns are nearly always singular.

Practice exercises:

Exercise 1 (choose the right form in brackets)

The most exciting production in the recent London Festival of Drama (was, were) the play The Brontës, which (are, is) based on the true story of the famous Brontë family. The family of four children and their father (lives, live) in an isolated part of Yorkshire. They share (a deep passion, deep passion) for the countryside and (a great love, great love) of literature, which together (inspire, inspires) them to write richly imaginative stories and poems.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë wrote a collection of poetry which was published under the male pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Emily Brontë's most famous work is Wuthering Heights, which (is, are) a dramatic story set in the wilds of the Yorkshire Moors.

Emily and Anne both died of tuberculosis at a young age. Branwell Brontë intended to study (a painting, painting)  but died aged thirty-one. Charlotte lived the longest and wrote several novels, including Jane Eyre.

Both Wuthering Heights  and Jane Eyre (appeal, appeals)  to readers of all ages and (is, are)  frequently studied in British schools.

Exercise 2 (choose the right form in brackets)

Anna: What did you think of the exhibition?
Paul: Amazing! I'm very keen on (a modern sculpture/modern sculpture).
Were the pieces created by (an artist female/an artist woman/a female artist) ?
Anna: Yes, they were. I think she has (a deep understanding/deep understandings/deep understanding) of natural forms. It's very impressive.
Paul: I thought the materials she used were interesting. The majority of the works (was/were) made from (a wood/wood) and (a stone/stone) . But one was made from (a lump of coal/lump of coal) !
Anna: Yes. There was (sculpture/a sculpture) that I really liked – it was shaped like a fish. Did you notice it?
Paul: Yes, I liked that one, too. I thought that the majority of people at the exhibition (were/was) quite young. Do you think it's mostly the young who (appreciate/appreciates) this kind of art?
Anna: I'm not sure about that. I saw a couple of older people who (was/were) clearly enjoying the exhibition.

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