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Agreement of the predicate with the subject

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  Are you sure you know how to build an English sentence?
  Here is a report I wrote for my grammar class. It lists all the rules of agreement between the subject and the predicate of the sentence with examples.
  Actually before writing it I’ve never thought that the rules were so complicated, and still I’m not sure that I can keep them all in mind ;)
  I hope the students of linguistic departments will make use of this work. Anyway, it is worth reading.
p.s.  Scroll down the post to download this report.


AGREEMENT OF THE PREDICATE WITH THE SUBJECT

I.  In the English language the predicate agrees with the subject in person and number.
  Agreement implies that the use of one form necessitates the use of the other, for example: a singular subject requires a predicate in the singular, a plural subject requires a predicate in the plural.

  • The house was alive with soft, quick steps and running voices.
  • This evening there was no bright sunset; west and east were one cloud …

  But in Modern English there is often a conflict between form and meaning; in these cases the predicate does not agree with the subject.

  • The Durham family were at breakfast, father, mother and seven children.
  • “Great Expectations” was written by Dickens in I860. He further intimated that the United States was so interested in its own internal affairs that it would not be drawn into the question.

  In Modern English with its few inflexions, agreement of the predicate with the subject is restricted to the present tense apart from the verb to be. The verb to be is an exception because it agrees with the subject not only in the present but in the past tense as well.

  • I am serious myself…
  • We are men and women who respect ourselves and love our families.
  • And Joseph was there with me.
  • All the blinds were pulled down at the hall and rectory.

  

II.  The following rules of agreement of the predicate with the subject should be observed:

1.  The predicate is used in the plural when there are two or more homogeneous subjects connected by the conjunction and or asyndetically.

  • Her father and motherwere obviously haunted and harassed.
  • The top of a low black cabinet, the old oak table, the chairs in tawny leather, were littered with the children’s toys, books, and garden garments.

  If two or more homogeneous subjects are expressed by infinitives the predicate is in the singular.

  • To labour in peace, and devote her labour and her life to her poor son, was all the widow sought.
  • To leave the quiet court, to gain the Strand, to hail a belated hansom was the work of a moment.

2.  When the predicate-verb precedes a number of subjects it is often in the singular, especially if the sentence begins with here or there.

  • And here was a man, was experience and culture.
  • Besides the chair at the writing-table there is an easy-chair at the medicine table, and a chair at each side of the dressing table.
  • The wind drove down the rain and everywhere there was standing water and mud.

  If the subjects are of different number the predicate agrees with the subject that stands first.

  • There was much traffic at night and many mules on the roads with boxes ammunition on each of their back saddles.

3.  When two homogeneous subjects in the singular are connected by the conjunctions not only…but (also), neither…nor, either…or, or, nor, the predicate is usually in the singular.

  • There was neither heroic swift defeat nor heroic swift victory.

  If the subjects are of different person or number, the predicate agrees with the one next to it.

  • Neither I nor my sister is to blame.
  • Neither your sister nor you are to blame.

4.  When two subjects in the singular are connected by the conjunction as well as the predicate is in the singular.

  • Activity as well as cell structure is an essential condition of life.

  If the subjects are of different person or number, the predicate agrees with the subject that stands first.

  • The Volga as well as its affluents is very picturesque.

5.  If a subject expressed by a noun is modified by two or more attributes connected by and, the predicate is in the singular when one person, thing, or idea is meant.

  • The complete and beautiful quiet was almost the quiet from beyond the grave.
  • Here a new social and political consciousness was in the making.

  If two or more persons, things, or ideas arc meant the predicate is in the plural.

  • Classical and light music have both their admirers.
  • The red and the white rose are both beautiful.
  • ! The red and white roses are both beautiful.

  The above examples show that, in this case, the subject expressed by an abstract noun stands in the singular; with class nouns we either repeat the article and put the noun in the singular or use the article once and put the noun in the plural.

6.  If the subject is expressed by a defining, indefinite, or negative pronoun (each, either, everybody, everyone, everything, somebody, someone, something, nobody, no one, nothing, neither, etc.), the predicate is in the singular.

  • In turn each of these four brothers was very different from the other, yet they, too were alike.
  • Everybody was glad to see Martin back.

7.  If the subject is expressed by an interrogative pronoun (who, what) the predicate is usually in the singular.

  • Who is to apply to her for permission?” I asked.
  • Tom called: “Hold! Who comes here into Sherwood Forest without my pass?

  If the question refers to more than one person the predicate may be used in the plural.

  • Who were to be the subjects of their piracies was a matter that did not occur to him.

8.  If the subject is expressed by a relative pronoun (who, which, that) the predicate agrees with its antecedent.

  • Mrs. Gowan, who was engaged in needlework, put her work aside in a covered basket, and rose a little hurriedly.
  • Near them were the old people who were watching the dancing.

9.  If the subject is expressed by the emphatic it the predicate is in the singular no matter what follows.

  • Foreigners say that it is only English girls who can thus be trusted to travel alone…

10.  If the subject is expressed by a noun in the plural which is the title of a book, or the name of a newspaper or magazine, the predicate is usually in the singular.

  • “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club” was written when Dickens was twenty-four years of age.

11.  If the subject is expressed by a noun in the plural denoting time, measure, or distance, the predicate is in the singular when the noun represents the amount or mass as a whole.

  • Four hundred miles was a huge distance when a man was no longer and had no means.
  • Twenty-one years is a longish time, bid, bid memory is longer and deeper and stronger than time.

12.  If the subject is expressed by a collective not in denoting a group or collection of similar individuals taken as a whole (mankind, humanity, etc.) the predicate-verb is in the singular.

  • He consoled himself with the idea that perhaps humanity was better than he thought.
  • “Well, what is mankind, then, Mrs Jenkins?” I asked her. “Mankind is all of us” Mrs. Jenkins said, “you and me and everybody you can think of all over the world. That is mankind.”

  If the subject is expressed by a noun of multitude, i.e, a collective noun denoting the individuals of the group taken separately (people — люди, infantry, cavalry, gentry, clergy, police, cattle, poultry, jury, etc.) the predicate-verb is as a rule in the plural.

  • The weather was warm, and the people were sitting at their doors.
  • The police are all over the place.
  • At the present time, too many commercial cattle are bred with no particular end in view.

  With collective nouns (family, committee, crew, army, board, chorus, government, party, team, company, band, etc.) as subject the predicate is either in the singular or in the plural; this depends on what is uppermost in the mind, the idea of oneness or plurality.

  • …the branch committee was meeting in the room of a textile trade union.
  • …I am glad to tell you, Doctor Manson … that the committee have decided by a majority to ask you to remain.
  • The company was then complete, twenty-one in all.
  • “One of them might have slipped into the hall, in the confusion, when the dinner company were going away.” says Mr. Franklin,
  • The Board was again full
  • The board were sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr. Rumble rushed into the. room in great excitement…

  

III.  The predicate agrees in number with the subject expressed by a syntactic word -group, consisting of two nouns connected by the conjunction and. Here we find agreement according to the meaning expressed in the word-group.

1.  (a) If the word-group consists of two nouns denoting different persons, things, or notions, the predicate-verb is in the plural.

  • Andreis and I were alone.
  • I knew that matter and spirit were one.

Note. — Syntactic word-groups forming one part of the sentence should not be confused with homogeneous parts of the sentence. A sentence with two homogeneous subjects can be divided into two sentences with each subject taken separately, independently of the other.

  • Kath and Pearl were good-looking girls. (= Kath was a good-looking girl; Pearl was a good-looking girl.)

  If we have a sentence with the subject expressed by a syntactic word-group, its elements cannot be used separately without destroying the meaning of the sentence; only the whole word-group (in the above examples: Andreis and I, matter and spirit) can serve as the subject in the given sentence.

    (b) The predicate-verb is in the singular when the subject is expressed by several nouns which represent one person or thing, or two persons or things forming a close unit often corresponding to one notion.

  • the wife and mother was asked with affectionate deference before the plan was made.
  • A carriage and pair was passing through the lodge gates of Transome court.

2.  If the subject is expressed by a word-group consisting of two nouns connected by the preposition with, or the expression together with, the predicate- verb is in the singular.
  It should be noted that these word-groups are very seldom found in English.

  • A woman with a child on the third floor is screaming and waving her free hand frantically.
  • An engine with a number of trucks was creeping up spluttering and snorting, halting and knocking.

3.  If the subject is expressed fry a syntactic word-group the first element of which denotes an indefinite number or amount, such as a number of…, a variety of…, the majority of…, a tot of…, plenty of… , a mass of… etc., the predicate may It in the singular or in the plural. In most cases the form of the predicate depends on the form and meaning of the second element, which from a semantic point of view is the dominant element of the word-group.

  • A number of cars were parked on the lot before a two-storey building.
  • A number of Connoisseurs were sitting and standing about.
  • There were a number of paper-covered booklets too.

Note. — The nouns number and variety may retain their concrete meaning (количество, разнообразие) and serve as subject of the sentence. In this case they are used with the definite article; the of-phrase that follows them is a separate part of the sentence —an attribute to the subject. The predicate is naturally in the singular as it agrees with the subject the number, the variety.

  • They tell me that the number of teachers in town has not increased in years.
  • Her acquaintance was fairly large; the number of her intimates was small.

4.  If the subject is expressed by the word-group many a… the predicate is in the singular.

  • The banks of the Avon are beautiful in these parts. Many an artist comes there.

5.  If the subject is expressed by a group of words denoting arithmetic calculations (addition, subtraction, division) the predicate is usually singular; multiplication presents an exception as the verb may be in the singular or in the plural.

  • Two and two is four.
  • Six minus four is two.
  • Twenty divided by five equals four.
  • Twice two is (are) four.

  

  Download this report in *.doc format.

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