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English for Academic Studies (Workshop) Session 2: Common ESL Errors I

Semester 1, 2009/10 ©PolyU HKCC

Session 2: Common ESL Errors I (Subject-Verb Agreement)

Part A: Diagnostic Test

Some sentences below are not correct. Identify the mistake and write the correct
form of verb in the space provided. Put a “√” if no mistake is found.

While technological advancement have greatly widened the

communication channels around the globe, dissipating national, political

and economic boundaries, it do not necessarily bring people closer. With

more communication pathways, communication between people do not

appear to be more effective. For one, face-to-face interactions shrinks –

youngsters prefers browsing through the Internet and playing online

games than socializing with others. For the other, the popularity of the

virtual world make deception and fraud easier. Any ordinary person can

assume several identities, not to mention those professional fraudsters

who creates multiple identities, just to reap profits through

deception. Such is the unintentional fruit of technological advancement.

Part B: Key Points Review (Subject-verb agreement)

Basic principle: In English, the number of the subject must correspond with the
number of the verb. Put simply, singular subjects take singular verbs; plural
subjects take plural verbs.


English for Academic Studies (Workshop) Session 2: Common ESL Errors I
Semester 1, 2009/10 ©PolyU HKCC

SUBJECT-VERB SEPARATION. When the verb is not immediately preceded by

the subject, make sure the verb agrees with the subject, not the intervening
nouns and/or prepositional phrases, of the sentence. For example, the girl in
red pants is my younger sister.

SUBJECT-VERB INVERSION. In questions and in inverted sentences like those

starting with Here and There, the verb agrees with the subject that follows. For
example, there are over 15 tutorial schools in our neighborhood.

COMPOUND SUBJECT (1). Plural verbs are needed where two subjects are
conjoined by And. For example, meanness and selfishness are qualities that
repel most people.

COMPOUND SUBJECT (2). When two subjects are joined by Either…Or,

Neither…Nor, the verb agrees with nearest subject. For example, either Jack
or I am responsible for chairing the coming marketing meeting.

INDEFINITE PRONOUNS. Indefinite pronouns that end with -body, -one, or

-thing (e.g. somebody, someone, something) always take a singular verb.
Similarly, the indefinite pronouns each, either, neither take a singular verb.
However, the indefinite pronouns both, few, many, and several always take a
plural verb. For example, although many have signed up for the marathon,
nobody was seen at the race.

COLLECTIVE NOUNS. Collective nouns like committee, class, crew, family,

staff etc. take a singular verb when the group is regarded as a unit; they take
plural verbs if individual members of the group are considered as acting
independently. For example, the committee are uncertain of what to do next.
(The members of the committee are…)

VERBAL NOUNS AND NOUN CLAUSES. Verbal nouns (i.e., gerunds and gerund
phrases, infinitives and infinitive phrases) and noun clauses used as subjects
always take a singular verb. For example, that Gillian won a scholarship to
study in Japan is an opportunity envied by others.

PLURAL FORM NOUNS. Some nouns are plural only in form; they take a
singular verb. Examples include economics, mathematics, means, measles,
mumps, news, physics, AIDS etc.

English for Academic Studies (Workshop) Session 2: Common ESL Errors I
Semester 1, 2009/10 ©PolyU HKCC

Part C: Concept Boosting Exercises

Exercise C1
Identify and underline the subjects and the main verbs in the following sentences.

1. For people who have asthma, strenuous exercise can be fatal.

2. My friend, who will get his PhD degree this month, wonders why finding a job
outside the academia is so difficult.
3. That Sherry took her life last month devastated everyone within her group.
4. Being able to listen to others is an important quality of a successful social worker.
5. Among the important qualities of being a successful fashion designer is the courage
to explore new things.
6. When a divorce happens, either a betrayal or financial issues are often the cause.

Exercise C2
The following paragraphs contain subject-verb agreement errors.
(1) Read through the paragraphs.
(2) Underline only the subjects related to the mistakes found.
(3) Correct the errors found, if any. Some sentences are error-free.


(1) Living in this costly and highly competitive society, most Hong Kong people focus
on financial security and social successes. (2) Having a lot of children are not only
financially infeasible but also in many ways psychologically taxing. (3) Phenomena
like mothers of kindergarten kids sharing information about recruiting so-and-so tutors
so as to assist their children to enter some famous primary schools is not unfamiliar to
most. (4) When their kids becomes old enough to learn musical instruments or sports,
some parents start learning music and/or sports as well, just to accompany their beloved
sons and/or daughters to pursue their “hobbies”. (5) When I encounter situations like
these, I cannot but wonder what are the real purpose of bringing forth children. (6)
Are having children a blessing still? (7) Or bearing and rearing children at this society
has become a curse in disguise.

English for Academic Studies (Workshop) Session 2: Common ESL Errors I
Semester 1, 2009/10 ©PolyU HKCC


(1) People having different sexual orientation seems to be on an increase. (2)

However, does it mean that the public show more tolerance of them? (3) Quite the
contrary. (4) In many ways, homosexuals is still discriminated. (5) The fact that they
are still disallowed from getting married legally leave them at a disadvantage position.
(6) Without the blessing of legalized marriages, the group are debarred from enjoying
the welfares shared by many of the heterosexual couples. (7) Furthermore, day in day
out, they still need to endure the subtle discriminations flung out against them. (8) It
seem that there are still a long way to go before they can be treated equally. (9)
Fighting for equality is no doubt an uphill battle.


(1) Over the recent years, people have started to notice an awful increase in teenage
violence. (2) There are also a wide concern that the media may have misled teenagers
to resort to violence. (3) It is claimed that movies like Infernal Affairs and video
games like Resident Evil has promoted the idea of violence among teenagers. (4)
However, another group maintain that the teenagers are able to have their own judgment
on the issue. (5) There are probably truths in both arguments but I think the media
influences on teenagers is profound, and the media should not give teenagers a wrong
message of violence.