Today the Dragon Wins

"Today the Dragon Wins" offers information from Fantasy Author and Professional Editor Sandy Lender. You'll also find dragons, wizards, sorcerers, and other fantasy elements necessary for a fabulous story, if you know where to look...

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Sandy Lender is the editor of an international trade publication and the author of the fantasy novels Choices Meant for Gods and Choices Meant for Kings, available from ArcheBooks Publishing, and the series-supporting chapbook, What Choices We Made.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Grammar Guide
Noun-Verb Agreement
Or…Can’t we all just get along?

Getting your nouns and verbs to agree works out easily if you track where they are. Find them, separate them out of the sentence for just a moment, make them stand next to each other, pat them down and dress them up until they look like they belong at the same party, and send them back in among the other words.

Picking them out and putting them back is often the easiest part for some writers. It’s the ‘making them agree’ that gets tricky. We can’t all be diplomats.

Here’s the rule: Singular nouns get a singular version of the verb. Plural nouns get a plural version of the verb. (We’ll hit group nouns in another Grammar Guide post because those British people toss convention to the wind, doncha know.)

We’ll start with the singular constructions. You know a noun is singular because there’s no “s” on the end of it making it “more than one”. For instance: John, the cat, the bird, the candle, Chariss, etc. The verbs that match these singular nouns will usually have an “s” on them. (And, hey, it’s the English language, so you just have to accept the fact that this is convoluted.)
John plays bass.
The cat chases mice.
The bird demands his toys.
The candle glows brightly.
We hope Chariss saves the world.

Ooh, did you catch that last one? We is a plural subject (even though there’s no “s” on the end of it) and “hope” is the plural verb. You know a noun (or pronoun in this particular case) is plural…well…because it indicates there’s more than one entity “in it”. For instance: they, the dogs, the players, we, etc. The verbs that match these plural nouns will usually NOT have an “s” on them.
They play musical instruments.
The dogs bury bones in the back yard.
The players on the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series.
We hope Chariss saves the world.

If you have difficulty determining whether the subject of your sentence agrees with the verb in the predicate of your sentence, you’ve got to go back to the original thought in this post. Pull them out of the sentence for a minute and make them stand next to each other. If you’ve got a complex sentence that’s losing the subject and verb amid a lot of other schtuff, you need to clear the clutter to figure it out. Just break it down to figure it out.

For example: Dressed up in layers of satin and lace, the bride Tiatha Wold, with her best series of smiles hiding her nervousness, holds in her trembling hands a bouquet of roses and gardenias.

(No, that travesty of a sentence does NOT appear in Choices Meant for Gods, and if it did, I’d have to discuss things with my editor.)

Take the subject “bride” and the verb “holds” out. Stand them next to each other to see the simple sentence. “The bride holds a bouquet.” Both “bride” and “holds” are singular, so we’re in agreement. No one was tempted to make “hold” agree with “smiles”, were you? We can talk of objects of prepositions in a future Grammar Guide, too…

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

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Blogger Don said...

You've missed the stickiest of examples. "That group of people wants to get our attention."

It would be easy to accidentally pull out "people want to get our attention" when really you should pull out "that group wants to get our attention." The word group even has a plural feel to it, making things worse.

I suppose it is the preposition that tips you off. "One of the people has to go," becomes obviously, "One has to."

Or, "One person in a million people expects to win the lottery." Obviously, "One person expects."

It seems obvious. But in my own editing, I find most of my noun-verb disagreements in that one pattern.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Sandy Lender said...

So what you're telling me is to get off my bum and post the Grammar Guides about the group nouns and objects of prepositions? ;) Aye, not enough hours in the day! But I promise to work on them! But you're right...prepositional phrases are worse at screwing people up than complex modifiers. They get in there and just throw words around as if they were the real subject and make a mess of things. English teachers must go nuts trying to explain this to grade-schoolers.

Sandy L.
"Some days, you just want the dragon to win."

3:39 PM  

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