The UVic Writer's Guide

Faulty Agreement


Subject/Verb Agreement
Pronoun Agreement

Subject/Verb AgreementSubject/Verb Agreement

Be sure that your subject agrees with the verb, even when there are intervening components of the sentence. In the sentence,

The group of bizarrely dressed youths are taking over the cafeteria,

The writer has used a plural verb because of the proximity of "youths," but the subject of the sentence is "group." The sentence should read:

The group of bizarrely dressed youths is taking over the cafeteria.

If there are two subjects joined by "and," use a plural verb:

My mother and father are coming to visit.

If the subjects are joined by "or," the verb must agree with the nearest subject:

Either Danny or Sandy is handling it.

Either Sherlock Holmes or the Hardy Boys are capable of solving this crime.

Collective nouns such as "family" take singular verbs when the sentence deals with the group as a whole:

The Griswold family is going on vacation this year.

If the sentence deals with the family as individuals, then a plural form is used:

The Griswold family are going to fight all the way through their vacation.

Linking verbs in subjective completions agree with the subject, not the completion:

My favourite thing to buy is compact discs.

but compare:

Compact discs are my favourite thing to buy.

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Pronoun Agreement

Pronouns agree in gender and number. This rule is not difficult to remember if you are writing about individual people or inanimate objects (where "it" suffices for everything). However, collective pronouns present more of a problem. Indefinite words such as "anyone," "anything," "someone," "everybody" and "no one" take singular pronouns. As for gender, see "Gender-specific language" in the section on Usage (5.).

The antecedent is the noun to which the pronoun refers. Make sure that it is clear what the antecedent of a pronoun is; otherwise, confusion and ambiguity will prevail. Also, make sure that you are referring to the correct noun. For example, in the following sentence the pronoun "their" refers to the noun "people" and not to "one":

You are one of those people who like to keep their skeletons in the closet.

In this next sentence, however, the pronoun "his" refers to "one" and not to "members":

I am the only one of the Lodge members who never wears his fez.

Be aware of the case of the pronoun. (For a discussion of case, see the section on grammar, 1.5.) If it is acting as the subject of a verb, use the subjective form:

It was she .

"She" is the subjective completion of "it was." Many people would automatically write "It was her," but the verb "to be" takes the same case after as before.

If the pronoun is acting as an object, use the objective form, even if the first person is involved:

Josh was angry withhim and me.

Many writers believe it is improper to write "him and me," but this is only true in the subjective case. It is not correct to write this:

Ken and me went to the ballgame,

But it is also incorrect to write

The rain soaked Ken and I,


They sent the invitation to Ken and I.

Use "I" in the subjective case and "me" in the objective case, no matter what other pronouns are found in the sentence. See also Grammar, 1.5, "Agreement."

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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995

This page updated September 21, 1995