by Liz Walter
One of the most common errors students make is to miss the ‘s’ from verbs after he, she or it:
Maria likes pizza.
Maria like pizza.
Of course, people will still understand you if you make this mistake, but you would lose marks for it in an English exam.
This sort of error is called an agreement error. Every normal sentence has a subject (in this case Maria) and a verb (like). The form of the verb depends on who or what the subject is. First, you need to think about whether the subject is singular or plural:
The horse eats grass.
The horses eat grass.
Then you need to remember the basic pattern:
I / you / we / they eat
he / she / it eats
We have eaten the cake.
He has eaten the cake.
Lara is going to school.
Lara and Emma are going to school.
Adam doesn’t like cheese.
Adam and Ethan don’t like cheese.
By the way, you may hear people whose first language is English saying ‘we / you / they was’. Although this is fairly common, it is not standard English, and people who say it risk being harshly judged by those who don’t!
One blog reader recently asked about verb agreement for group nouns such as team, group and family. These are all singular words but they are used to describe more than one person. Oddly, the rule here is different in British and American English. Americans treat these strictly as singulars:
His family was very proud.
This is also correct in British English, but we allow a plural verb too:
His family were very proud.
So, in British English, you can use either form. However, you must use the same form consistently, unlike the song by Elvis Costello, which has the lyrics, ‘Oliver’s army is here to stay / Oliver’s army are on their way’!
Learners often make errors with There is / There’s … , which must be followed by a singular subject and There are … , which must be followed by a plural subject:
There’s a book on the table.
There are some books on the table.
At a slightly more advanced level, either and neither must have a singular verb if they are followed directly by a noun, but they can have a singular or a plural verb when they are followed by of (though again, it is important to use the same form throughout your text):
Neither man enjoys tennis.
Neither of the men enjoys / enjoy tennis.
Let me know if you have any other queries about this topic.