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Dr. Karen Palmer

Choosing Appropriate Verb Tenses

In order to understand verb tenses, it’s important to understand what verb tense refers to. In general, verb tense gives us information about three different areas.

First, the tense of a verb usually gives readers a sense of time. In other words, verb tense explains if the action in the sentence took place previously (past tense), is taking place right now (present tense), or will take place some time in the future (future tense).

Second, tense can indicate continual or recurring action (progressive), action that has completely taken place as of a certain time (perfect), and action that began in the past but continues or recurs through the present time (perfect progressive).

Finally verbs can indicate person (first, second, or third) and number (singular or plural).

The following image gives a broad overview of how a verb can communicate whether an action is occurring in the past, present, or future; if the action is complete, recurring, or continuing from the past; and what the person and number of the subject is. In this image, progressive tense is called “continuous”:

 

Verb tenses in English
Image licensed CC BY SA.

Verb tenses allow you to attach timing to sentences you write and say. To make your meaning clear, you need to choose the correct tense for the timing and you need to be sure to include all the needed words for that tense.

Verb Tenses Timing of Action Additional Words and Endings Needed to Complete Verb Examples
Simple present Taking place right now None I hike.
You hike.
She hikes.
Simple past Started and finished in the past Add –ed to verb. I hiked.
You hiked.
She hiked.
Simple future Will take place after now Add will or shall to the present-tense verb I will hike.
You will hike.
She will hike.

Present progressive

Taking place right now and will continue to take place Add am, is, or are to the verb + –ing I am hiking
You are hiking.
He is hiking.
Past progressive Took place in the past at the same time that another action took place Add was or were to the verb + –ing I was hiking.
You were hiking.
He was hiking.
Future progressive Will take place in the future and will continue on indefinitely Add will be or shall be to the verb + –ing I will be hiking.
You will be hiking.
He will be hiking.
Present perfect Happened at an indefinite time in the past or started in the past and continues now Add has or have to the past participle of the verb (usually-ed) I have hiked this trail before. (in the past)
I have hiked this trail since I was five years old. (in the past and continues)
Past perfect Took place before some other past action Add had to the past participle of the verb (usually –ed) By the time I saw Jenny, I had hiked past the food station.
Future perfect Will take place some time in the future before some other action Add will have to the past participle of the verb (usually-ed) I will have hiked for two hours before you even wake up.
Present perfect progressive Began in the past, continues now, and might continue into the future Add has or have been to the verb + ing I have been hiking for a while.
Past perfect progressive Took place on an ongoing basis in the past and was completed before another past action Add had been to the verb + –ing You had been walking for an hour when you saw the swans.
Future perfect progressive Takes place in the future on an ongoing basis Add will have been to the verb + –ing They will have been hiking once a week by then.

In this chart, you can see how the verb “to run” changes depending on the time, state of action, person, and number: 

Person Singular Present Plural Present Singular Past Plural Past Singular Past Participle Plural Past Participle Singular Progressive Plural Progressive
First I run. We run. I ran. We ran. I have run. We have run. I am running. We are running.
Second You run. You all run. You ran. You all ran. You have run. You all have run. You are running. You all are running.
Third He/she/it runs. They run. He/she/it ran. They ran. He/she/it has run. They have run. He/she/it is running. They are running.

Here is a video reviewing all of the tenses and how they work:

Using Irregular Verbs Correctly

Irregular verbs are verbs that do not follow the expected verb tense patterns. Note the difference between regular and irregular verbs in the two tables below:

Regular Verbs
Base Past Tense Past Participle (Preceded by Form of “to Have”)
accept accepted accepted
bump bumped bumped
dry dried dried
hop hopped hopped
observe observed observed
print printed printed
shrug shrugged shrugged
wobble wobbled wobbled
Irregular Verbs
Base Past Tense Past Participle (Preceded by Form of “to Have”)
break broke broken
bite bit bitten
catch caught caught
teach taught taught
awake awoke awoke/awakened
arise arose arisen
bear bore borne
bring brought brought
choose chose chosen
come came come
do did done
eat ate eaten
fall fell fallen
freeze froze frozen
get got got/gotten
give gave given
go went gone
run ran run
drink drank drunk
ring rang rung
have had had
hear heard heard
know knew known
lay laid laid
lead led led
lie lay lain
ride rode ridden
rise rose risen
say said said
see saw saw
shine* shone shone
shine* shined shined
take took taken
*Note that some words have more than one conjugation based on meaning. For example, the sun and lights shine/shone/shone, but when we deal with shoes, we shine/shined/shined.

Now look at how a regular and irregular verb are conjugated side by side:

Verb Tenses for the Regular Verb “Look” and the Irregular Verb “Eat”

Tense Number and Person Past Present Future

Simple

Past: main verb + –ed or irregular variations

Present: main verb

Future: will or shall + main verb

First-person singular I looked. I look. I will look.
I ate. I eat. I will eat.
First-person plural We looked. We look. We will look.
We ate. We eat. We will eat.
Second-person singular You looked. You look. You will look.
You ate. You eat. You will eat.
Second-person plural You looked. You look. You will look.
You ate. You eat. You will eat.
Third-person singular He looked. He looks. He will look.
She ate. She eats. She will eat.
Third-person plural They looked. They look. They will look.
They ate. They eat. They will eat.

Progressive

Verb + –ing and a form of the verb “to be”

Past: was, were

Present: am, is, are

Future: will be

First-person singular I was looking. I am looking. I will be looking.
I was eating. I am eating. I will be eating.
First-person plural We were looking. We are looking. We will be looking.
We were eating. We are eating. We will be eating.
Second-person singular You were looking. You are looking. You will be eating.
You were eating. You are eating. You will be looking.
Second-person plural You were eating. You are eating. You will be eating.
You were looking. You are looking. You will be looking.
Third-person singular He was looking. He is looking. He will be looking.
She was eating. She is eating. She will be eating.
Third-person plural They were looking. They are looking. They will be looking.
They were eating. They are eating. They will be eating.

Perfect

Past participle and a form of the verb “to be”

Past: had

Present: has, have

Future: will have

First-person singular I had looked. I have looked. I will have looked.
I had eaten. I have eaten. I will have eaten.
First-person plural We had looked. We have looked. We will have looked.
We had eaten. We have eaten. We will have eaten.
Second-person singular You had looked. You have looked. You will have looked.
You had eaten. You have eaten. You will have eaten.
Second-person plural You had looked. You have looked. You will have looked.
You had eaten. You have eaten. You will have eaten.
Third-person singular He had looked. He has looked. He will have looked.
She had eaten. She has eaten. She will have eaten.
Third-person plural They had looked. They have looked. They will have looked.
They had eaten. They have eaten. They will have eaten.

Perfect progressive

Verb + –ing and a form of the verb “to be”

Past: had been

Present: has been, have been

Future: will have been

First-person singular I had been looking. I have been looking. I will have been looking.
I had been eating. I have been eating. I will have been eating.
First-person plural We had been looking. We have been looking. We will have been looking.
We had been eating. We have been eating. We will have been eating.
Second-person singular You had been looking. You have been looking. You will have been looking.
You had been eating. You have been eating. You will have been eating.
Second-person plural You had been looking. You have been looking. You will have been looking.
You had been eating. You have been eating. You will have been eating.
Third-person singular He had been looking. He has been looking. He will have been looking.
She had been eating. She has been eating. She will have been eating.
Third-person plural They had been looking. They have been looking. They will have been looking.
They had been eating. They have been eating. They will have been eating.

Handling Specific Problematic Verbs

Some verbs are especially problematic either because their meanings are confused or because some of their forms sound alike. Handle these verbs by knowing which ones give you trouble and then focusing on the conjugation of those specific verbs. Some of these most commonly troublesome verbs are in the following table. You need to know two key verb types to read this table: transitive (when an object receives the action of the verb; in other words, something is done to something) and intransitive (a verb that does not act on an object).

Problematic Verb Set (Base, Past, P. Part.) Guidelines Examples
borrow…lend The verb borrow means “to temporarily get from someone else,” and lend means “to temporarily give to someone else.” I borrowed Kyle’s backpack since I had lent mine to Alice.
borrow, borrowed, borrowed
lend, lent, lent
bring…take The starting point of the action causes the confusion between these two verbs. If you bring something, you have to start somewhere else and end up at the common location. If you take something, you have to start at the common location and end up somewhere else. He brought his clean life jacket to the river and took away a filthy life jacket.
bring, brought, brought
take, took, taken
feel…think The verb feel is emotion based and the verb think is logic based. I feel excited about the tree-top ride, but I think it might cost more than I can afford.
feel, felt, felt
think, thought, thought
lay…lie The verb lay is transitive and means “to put,” so whenever you put something down, use lay. If you could replace the verb with put or place, you should use lay. The verb lie means “to rest” or “to tell a falsehood.” I laid my sunglasses down on a rock.
lay, laid, laid I lay on the rock myself for twenty minutes.
lie, lay, lain (rest) The ranger jokingly lied about the trail being a short one.
lie, lied, lied (fib)
learn…teach The verb learn always means to “take in information” and to teach always means to “give out information.” I learned that Yellowstone was the first national park in the United States. When we go there this summer, I’m going to see what Old Faithful can teach me about geysers.
learn, learned, learned
teach, taught, taught
raise…rise The verb raise is transitive, so you always have to raise something. The verb rise means to “go up” or “get up.” We are planning to rise early so that we are ready to start hiking when the sun rises, so raise your hand now if you have a problem with that plan.
raise, raised, raised
rise, rose, risen
set…sit The verb sit is always intransitive and set usually transitive. The most common confusion is when referring to putting something down. Whenever the meaning is to put, use set. The squirrel set his nut on the ground and sat looking at me.
set, set, set
sit, sat, set

Matching Infinitives and Participles to Verb Tenses

Verbals are words formed from verbs that function as other parts of speech. One type of verbals, gerunds (laughing, eating), always function as nouns (e.g., “Laughing is good for you”). Present, past, and present perfect participles are verbals that function as adjectives (e.g., “The sound of laughing children always cheered him up,” “The sight of the broken tricycle left in the rain made him gloomy”). Infinitives (to laugh, to have eaten) are another main type of verbals that function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. When using any of these verbals, make sure you match the tense of the verb in the sentence.

Infinitives

When the action of the infinitive takes place after or at the same time as the action of the main verb, use the present tense:

We plan to camp in the National Redwood Forest this week.

When the action of the infinitive takes place before the action of the main verb, present the infinitive in perfect tense:

We planned to have been camping in the National Redwood Forest last week.

Participle Phrases

Participle phrases can begin with the present participle, past participle, or present perfect participle.

The present participle is the correct choice when the action of the participle is happening at the same time as the action of the main verb:

Resulting in large openings called goosepen scars, fire ravages redwood trees without killing them.

When the action of the participle takes place before the action of the main verb, you can use either a past participle or a present perfect participle:

Scarred by a fire years ago, the large redwood tree still stands tall and awesome. (past participle in participle phrase)

Having posed for several pictures inside the redwood trunk, we climbed out and previewed the shots.

Exercise 1

1. Identify the verb tense used in each of the following sentences:

  • I have heard that saying before.
  • Joey seemed uncomfortable when he was at my house yesterday.
  • You will be running in the second heat this afternoon.
  • Lois is writing a letter to the editor.
  • By ten o’clock tonight, we will have been walking for twenty hours.

2. Write three sentences using simple tense, three using progressive tense, three using perfect tense, and three using perfect progressive tense. Make sure to include each of the following variations at least once: past, present, future, first person, second person, third person, singular, and plural.

3. Write a set of three sentences each using one of the verbs go, went, and gone.

4. Write a sentence using the verb freeze in present progressive tense.

5. Write a sentence using the verb ride in past perfect progressive tense.

6. Write a sentence using the verb lie in simple future tense.

7. Write a sentence using the verb learn in past perfect tense.

8. Write three sentences using each of the following verbs as gerunds, infinitives, and participle phrases. Identify the part of speech in each case.

  • love
  • kick
  • play
  • eat
  • drive

Managing Mood

The mood of a verb can be imperative, indicative, or subjunctive. Although those three words might make mood sound somewhat complicated, in reality you are likely quite familiar with the different moods. Study this table for clarification.

Verb Moods Explanations Examples
Imperative

The subject is understood to be the reader and is not given in the sentence.

Imperative sentences include the following:

  • Commands
  • Requests
  • Advice
  • Control your partying when you are in college.
  • Please keep your future in mind as you make choices.
  • Limit partying to the weekends so you will be more likely to find success as a college student.
Indicative (or declarative)

Indicative sentences include the following:

  • Statements
  • Facts
  • Opinions
  • Questions
  • During my first year in college, I was more focused on having fun with my friends than on studying.
  • About one-third of eighteen-year-old college freshmen drop out within their first year of college.
  • Although some colleges try to control your behavior with rules, you need to figure out for yourself how to successfully balance your class work and your personal life.
  • Do you think it helps to have midnight curfews for students who live in dormitories?
Subjunctive

Present-tense verbs remain in the base form rather than changing to match the number or person of the subject. Past-tense verbs are the same as simple past tense.

Exception: The verb “to be” uses “were” in all situations.

Subjunctive sentences include the following:

  • Wishes
  • Recommendations
  • Doubts
  • Contrary-to statements
  • [present tense] It is important that I be [NOT am] focused on doing homework before partying.
  • [present tense] I suggest a student work [NOT student works] on assignments every Friday afternoon.
  • [past tense] If I were [NOT was] him, I’d have stayed at the library with my laptop for a few hours.
  • [past tense] If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Problems with mood occur when the mood shifts within a sentence, as shown in the following table. In the table, the revisions were all made to match the mood that the sentence initially used. You could also choose to make different revisions that are equally acceptable.

Verb Moods Problem Shifts Revisions
Started with imperative and switched to subjunctive Control your schedule, and I’d choose the number of hours I need for homework before talking to anyone about weekend plans. Control your schedule and choose the number of hours you need for homework before talking to anyone about weekend plans.
Started with indicative and switched to imperative People don’t think for themselves and stop being so wishy-washy. Think for yourself and stop being so wishy-washy.
Started with subjunctive and switched to imperative It matters that you be in charge of your success and you should stop blaming others. It matters that you be in charge of your success and stop blaming others.

Exercise 2

1. The following passage has inconsistent verb moods. Identify the existing verb moods as imperative, indicative, and/or imperative. Then revise the passage so that it has consistent verb moods.

  • Don’t go to the party on Friday night. If I were you, I’d spend Friday in the library and go to the big party on Saturday. Physics majors need to stay focused.

2. Write three sentences using each of these verb moods in one of the sentences: imperative, indicative, subjunctive.

3. Write a passage with at least three sentences. Use a consistent verb mood throughout the passage.

Making Sure Subjects and Verbs Agree

By the time you reach college, you probably have a fairly well-developed sense of whether a sentence sounds right. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons why you should get into the habit of reading your drafts aloud before you submit them for peer or instructor review. Or better yet, ask a friend to read your draft back to you. You’ll be surprised how many careless errors you catch just from hearing them.

One key aspect that can make a sentence sound incorrect is if the subject and verb do not agree. Sometimes this happens because the subject and verb are separated by a prepositional phrase or other words that confuse the writer. In any case, the rules for subject verb agreement are very clear cut.

In properly written sentences, the subjects and verbs must agree in number and person. Agreeing in number means that a plural subject is matched up with the plural form of the verb. Although the plural of a noun often ends in –s, it is the singular of a verb that usually ends in –s.

The rabbit hops all around the cage. (singular subject and verb)

The rabbits hop all around the cage. (plural subject and verb)

Agreeing in person means, for example, a third-person noun must be matched with the proper third-person verb. This chart shows first, second, and third person for a few present-tense verbs. As you can see, most of the verbs are the same in all columns except for the third-person singular. The verb “to be” at the bottom also varies in the first-person singular column. So to match subjects and verbs by person, you could choose, for example, to say “I am,” but not “I are.”

A Few Present-Tense Verbs

First-Person Singular: I First-Person Plural: We Second-Person Singular: You Second-Person Plural: You Third-Person Singular: He, She, It Third-Person Plural: They
walk walk walk walk walks walk
laugh laugh laugh laugh laughs laugh
rattle rattle rattle rattle rattles rattle
fall fall fall fall falls fall
think think think think thinks think
am are are are is ar

It rattles when the wind blows. (third-person subject and verb)

I think I am a funny person. (first-person subject and verb)

Each of the following sentences represents a common type of agreement error. An explanation and a correction of the error follow each example:

  1. Pete and Tara is siblings.

    A subject that includes the word “and” usually takes a plural verb even if the two nouns are singular.

    The sentence should read “Pete and Tara are siblings.”

  2. Biscuits and gravy are my favorite breakfast.

    Sometimes the word and connects two words that form a subject and are actually one thing. In this case, “biscuits and gravy” is one dish. So even though there are two nouns connected by the word “and,” it is a singular subject and should take a singular verb.

    The sentence should read “Biscuits and gravy is my favorite breakfast.”

  3. The women who works here are treated well.

    Relative pronouns (that, who, and which) can be singular or plural, depending on their antecedents (the words they stand for). The pronoun has the same number as the antecedent. In this case, “who” stands for “women” and “women” is plural, so the verb should be plural.

    The sentence should read “The women who work here are treated well.”

  4. One of the girls sing in the chorus.

    A singular subject is separated by a phrase that ends with a plural noun. This pattern leads people to think that the plural noun (“girls” in this case) is the subject to which they should match the verb. But in reality, the verb (“sing”) must match the singular subject (“one”).

    The sentence should read “One of the girls sings in the chorus.”

  5. The data is unclear.

    The words “data” and “media” are both considered plural at all times when used in academic writing. In more casual writing, some people use a singular version of the two words.

    The sentence should read “The data are unclear.”

  6. The basketball players with the most press this month is the college men playing in the Final Four tournament.

    In some sentences, like this one, the verb comes before the subject. The word order can cause confusion, so you have to find the subject and verb and make sure they match.

    The sentence should read “The basketball players with the most press this month are the college men playing in the Final Four tournament.”

  7. I is ready to go.

    A subject and verb must agree in person. In this case, “I” is a first-person noun, but “is” is a third-person verb.

    The sentence should read “I am ready to go.”

  8. What we think are that Clyde Delber should resign immediately.

    Words that begin with “what” can take either a singular or a plural verb depending on whether “what” is understood as singular or plural. In this case, “we” collectively think one thing, so the verb should be singular even though “we” is plural.

    The sentence should read “What we think is that Clyde Delber should resign immediately.”

  9. Either the dog or the cats spends time on this window seat when I’m gone.

    The word “or” usually indicates a singular subject even though you see two nouns. This sentence is an exception to this guideline because at least one of the subjects is plural. When this happens, the verb should agree with the subject to which it is closest.

    The sentence should read “Either the dog or the cats spend time on this window seat when I’m gone.”

  10. Molly or Huck keep the books for the club, so one of them will know.

    The word “or” usually indicates a singular subject even though you see two nouns. An exception to this guideline is that if one of the subjects is plural, the verb should agree with the subject to which it is closest.

    The sentence should read “Molly or Huck keeps the books for the club, so one of them will know.

  11. The wilderness scare me when I think of going out alone.

    When a singular noun ends with an -s, you might get confused and think it is a plural noun.

    The sentence should read “The wilderness scares me when I think of going out alone.”

  12. Each of the girls are happy to be here.

    Indefinite pronouns (anyone, each, either, everybody, and everyone) are always singular. So they have to always be used with singular verbs.

    The sentence should read “Each of the girls is happy to be here.”

Exercise 3

1. Write one sentence showing the correct use of each of the guidelines presented in the tips within this section. (twelve total sentences)

2. Mark the subject and verb in each of the following sentences. Then identify the number and person for each subject/verb combination.

  • We remember them every year at this time.
  • The media are hungry for anything that sells news.
  • You dance like someone who has had a lot of training.
  • Denver or Salt Lake City sells the most of our ice sculptures each year.
  • I, of all your siblings, am least likely to judge you.

3. These sentences have number errors, person errors, or both. Rewrite each sentence so that it is error free.

  • The people in the town supports the local theater.
  • Five cups are enough for a double recipe.
  • Anna and Jonah runs after classes each day.
  • The luckiest group was the math students who took the test first hour.
  • Everybody are glad to help in a situation like this one.

Remember, subjects and verbs must agree in two ways: number (singular or plural) and person (first, second, or third). These two general rules hold through all the different subject/verb guidelines. As a rule, plural subjects end in –s and plural verbs do not end in –s. In this section, the noun is in bold and the verb is in italic.

Pairing Verbs with Singular and Plural Subjects

Many sentences have subjects and verbs that appear side by side. The subjects in these sentences are often clearly singular or plural, and they clearly determine the needed verb form.

Situation Example Caution
Typical singular subject followed directly by the verb The US government establishes national parks on an ongoing basis, such as the six parks formed in Alaska in 1980. Don’t get confused into thinking that a singular subject needs a verb without an –s. The plural version would be “governments establish.”
Typical plural subject followed directly by the verb National parks provide wonderful opportunities for people to commune with nature. The subject “parks” is plural and it agrees with “provide.” The singular version would be “park provides.”

Matching Subjects and Verbs That Are Separated by Other Words

When words fall between a subject and verb, the singular/plural state of the subject is sometimes confusing. Always make sure you are matching the verb to the subject and not to one of the words between the two.

Situation Example Caution
Words fall between subject and verb Six national parks in Alaska were formed in 1980. Mistaking “Alaska” for the subject would make it seem as if the verb should be “was formed.”

Joining Plural Verbs to Compound or Double Subjects

Compound subjects joined by the word “and” are plural since there is more than one of them. Double subjects joined by “or” or “nor” match to a verb based on the status of the subject closest to the verb.

Situation Example Watch Out For
Compound subject with plural verb Rock and grass combine to make Badlands National Park amazing. “Rock and grass” is a plural subject formed by two singular words. Don’t get confused and use “combines” for the verb because the individual subjects are singular.
Noncompound double subject functioning as a singular subject Depending on where you look, rock or grass dominates your view. Since the subjects are joined by “or,” they do not automatically become plural because there are two of them.

Pairing Singular Verbs with Titles and Collective Subjects

Regardless of the singular or plural nature of the words within a title, the title is considered one unit; thus it is a singular noun. Similarly, collective nouns, such as “committee,” function as singular nouns regardless of how many people or things might actually make up the collective noun.

Situation Example Watch Out For
Title with singular verb Everglades National Park preserves thousands of acres of wetlands. This title isn’t plural just because word “Everglades” is plural. The park is one thing and, therefore, is singular.
Collective subject with singular verb The team meets twice a year at Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde National Park. Although you know that the “team” is made up of more than one person, you must view “team” as a single unit.

Teaming Singular Verbs with Indefinite Subjects

Whether an indefinite subject is singular or plural depends on whether the indefinite noun has a singular or plural meaning on its own or based on the rest of the sentence.

Situation Example Watch Out For
Indefinite subject with singular meaning on its own Each of the fossils in the Petrified Forest National Park tells a story. Even though there is more than one fossil, the word “each” is always singular. Many indefinite subjects are always singular. Examples include another, anyone, anything, each, everybody, everything, neither, nobody, one, other, and something.
Indefinite subject with singular meaning based on the rest of the sentence All of Arizona was once located in a tropical region. Since “Arizona” is singular, “all” is singular. Some indefinite subjects can be singular or plural. Examples include all, any, more, most, none, some, and such.
Indefinite subject with plural meaning based on the rest of the sentence All the petrified trees in the Petrified Forest National Park are millions of years old. Since “trees” is plural, “all” is plural.
Indefinite subject with plural meaning on its own Both scrubland and rock formations are common in desert settings. Some indefinite subjects are always plural. Examples include both, few, fewer, many, others, several, and they.

Choosing Verbs When the Subject Comes after the Verb

The standard sentence format in English presents the subject before the verb. In reversed sentences, you need to find the subject and then make sure it matches the verb. To find the subject, fill the following blank with the verb and then ask the question of yourself: who or what _____?

Situation Example Watch Out For
Subject comes after the verb Throughout Mammoth Cave National Park run passages covering over 367 miles. Who or what runs? The passages do. Even though you might be tempted to think “Mammoth Cave National Park” is the subject, it is not doing the action of the verb. Since “passages” is plural, it must match up to a plural verb.

Deciding If Relative Pronouns Take a Singular or Plural Verb

Relative pronouns, such as who, which, that, and one of, are singular or plural based on the pronoun’s antecedent. You have to look at the antecedent of the relative clause to know whether to use a singular or plural verb.

Situation Example Watch Out For
Relative pronoun that is singular The Organ, which rises up seven hundred feet, is so named for its resemblance to a pipe organ. The word “organ” is singular and is the antecedent for “which.” So the word “which” is also singular. The word “which” is the subject for the relative clause “which rises up seven hundred feet” and, therefore, requires a singular verb (rises).
Relative pronoun that is plural Arches National Park in Utah offers sites that mesmerize the most skeptical people. The word “sites” is plural and is the antecedent for “that.” The word “that” is the subject for the relative clause “that mesmerize the most skeptical people.” So “that” is plural in this case and requires a plural verb (mesmerize).

Matching Singular Subjects to Gerunds and Infinitives

Sometimes, verbs can form nouns, which then function as nouns in a sentence.

Gerunds are nouns formed by adding –ing to a verb. Gerunds can combine with other words to form gerund phrases, which function as subjects in sentences. Gerund phrases are always considered singular. Examples: walking, running, sitting, etc.

Infinitives are the “to” forms of verbs, such as to run and to sing. Infinitives can be joined with other words to form an infinitive phrase. These phrases can serve as the subject of a sentence. Like gerund phrases, infinitive phrases are always singular. Examples: to walk, to run, to sit, etc.

Situation Example Watch Out For
Gerund phrase as singular subject Veering off the paths is not recommended on the steep hills of Acadia National Park. Don’t be fooled by the fact that “paths” is plural. The subject of this sentence is the whole gerund phrase, which is considered to be singular. So a singular verb is needed.
Infinitive phrase as singular subject To restore Acadia National Park after the 1947 fire was a Rockefeller family mission. All words in an infinitive phrase join together to create a singular subject.

Recognizing Singular Subjects That Look Plural and Then Choosing a Verb

Some subjects appear plural when they are actually singular. Some of these same subjects are plural in certain situations, so you have to pay close attention to the whole sentence.

Situation Example Watch Out For
Singular subjects that look plural Politics plays a part in determining which areas are named as national parks. Many subjects are or can be singular, but look plural, such as athletics, mathematics, mumps, physics, politics, statistics, and news. Take care when matching verbs to these subjects.
Subject that looks plural, and is sometimes singular and sometimes plural State and national politics sway Congress during national park designation talks. Just because words such as “politics” can be singular doesn’t mean that they always are. In this case, the adjectives “state and national” clarify that different sources of politics are involved (“state politics” and “national politics”), so “politics” is plural in this case.

 

Exercise 4

1. Complete the interactive lesson in Subject Verb Agreement: Subject Verb Agreement Interactive Lesson

Exercise 5

1. Write sentences to meet each of the following criteria. For each sentence, be sure that the subjects and verbs agree.

2. Write a sentence that has words between the subject and verb.

3. Write a sentence with a compound subject.

4. Write a sentence that has a title of a song, movie, television show, or national park for a subject.

5. Write a sentence that has a collective noun for a subject.

6. Write a sentence that has an indefinite subject (another, anyone, anything, each, everybody, everything, neither, nobody, one, other, or something).

7. Write a sentence where the subject comes after the verb.

8. Write a sentence that uses a relative pronoun as a singular subject.

9. Write a sentence that uses a relative pronoun as a plural subject.

10. Write a sentence that has a gerund phrase for the subject.

11. Write a sentence that has an infinitive phrase for the subject.

12. Write a sentence that has a subject that looks plural but is actually singular.

13. Write a sentence that has a subject that looks plural and is sometimes singular but is plural in this situation.


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