How to nail subject-verb agreement with indefinite and collective nouns

It’s a grammar mistake that can sully your reputation as a writer and doom your media pitch. Consider these insights to keep the rule straight on collective and indefinite nouns.

About half of all grammatical errors are mistakes in the use of verbs.

As professional writers and editors, we sometimes focus so much on choosing the right verbs that we forget the basics of these powerful and sometimes troublesome parts of speech.

Here’s a brief look at two problem areas involving subject-verb agreement.

Collective nouns

Collective nouns define more than one person, place or thing (e.g., team, class, audience, panel, staff). These nouns take either singular or plural verbs, depending on whether the word refers to the group as a unit or to its members as individuals.

If the group is referred to as a unit, the singular verb is used.

If the individual members of the group are emphasized, the plural verb is used.

When the subject refers to a unit amount or a lump sum, the verb is singular.

When the subject refers to several units, the verb is plural.

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