Subject-Verb Agreement and the News

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24 October, 2019

Imagine you are reading or listening to an American news story. Perhaps it is a health and lifestyle story.

Diabetes is a serious, chronic disease on the rise around

the world...

Over time, diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves.

Some of the nouns might seem like they could be plural. But they are not. For example, why does the story say "diabetes is..."?

Today, we will explore that very question.

Specifically, we will explore subject-verb agreement in the news.

Subject-verb agreement

Subject-verb agreement means that a sentence's subject and verb agree in number. Here is an example:

My friends like to travel.

The subject, my friends, is plural. Therefore, the verb is plural as well.

If the sentence were about one friend, it would be different:

My friend likes to travel.

This is the basic idea of subject-verb agreement.

However, when you are reading or listening to English language news, you might hear some strange cases of subject-verb agreement.

The news, in fact, is full of strange cases of subject-verb agreement, as we will see.

Unusual kinds of subject verb agreement

English speakers often make nouns plural when they add an –s to the end of the word. For example, cat becomes cats; dog becomes dogs; house becomes houses.

But English speakers do not always consider nouns that end in –s to be plural. In fact, we gave you an example just a short time ago:

The news, in fact, is full of strange cases of subject-verb agreement.

English speakers use news with a singular verb.

Countries/organizations

Some common terms in the news might seem to have unusual subject-verb agreement.

You might find these terms in stories about international politics, for example.

These terms are often proper nouns. Although they have an –s ending, they are singular.

Here is one such example:

The Philippines has become the second country to voice displeasure over the film "Abominable."

Here, the speaker uses a singular verb structure - has become.

English speakers also use a singular verb with another country: The United States.

So, you might read a news story that says, "The United States is going to increase tariffs on certain goods" or "The Philippines is planning to export more products next year."

When English speakers refer to the Philippines or the United States with a pronoun, they use "it" - a singular pronoun.

Some organizations also take singular verbs.

The United Nations is probably the most famous example.

Illnesses with – s on the end

Health and lifestyle stories also have confusing cases of subject-verb agreement.

Many common illnesses take singular verbs.

Diabetes is one example we already noted earlier.

Diabetes is a serious, chronic disease on the rise around the world...

Over time, diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves.

Measles is another example:

Measles makes people very sick, and it is especially dangerous for young children. It can lead to other health problems such as pneumonia or encephalitis.

You might also read about rabies, rickets, shingles and mumps. All of those illnesses usually take singular verbs.

Closing thoughts

The next time you are reading the news, pay close attention to subject-verb agreement. Ask yourself the following question: Does the sentence have normal subject-verb agreement? If not, what might explain the sentence's unusual subject-verb agreement?

Asking yourself these kinds of questions will help you learn patterns. By learning these patterns, you can improve your reading and writing skills.

I'm Jill Robbins.

And I'm John Russell.

John Russell wrote this story for Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

chronic – adj. medical : continuing or occurring again and again for a long time

displeasure -- n. a feeling of unhappiness or annoyance

tariff – n. a tax on goods coming into or leaving a country

product – n. something that is made or grown to be sold or used

illness – n. a specific condition that prevents your body or mind from working normally : a sickness or disease

pneumonia – n. medical : a serious disease that affects the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe

encephalitis – n. inflammation of the brain

pattern – n. the regular and repeated way in which something happens or is done

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