Tag Archives: Jessica Shepherd

Subjects and verbs

2 Apr

A sentence, even one as short as “He left”, always contains a subject – a noun or pronoun – and a verb. The two should always agree although, in practice, they often do not.

For example, an article in today’s Guardian by Jessica Shepherd (its education correspondent, no less), read, “One in five free schools are opening…”. This should have been, “One in five free schools is opening…”. As far as grammar is concerned, it’s irrelevant whether she was writing about one school in five or one school in twenty-five – the singular subject of the sentence was “one” (one school in five). I know it’s easy to criticise journalists’ grammar (and I realise they are working to a deadline), but it would probably have been better to write, “One free school in five is opening…”.

The most common, and to me irritating, use of plural verbs with singular subjects is “are” with “team” and “group”. When talking about a team, commentators now always seem to say, for example, “England are unlikely to qualify”, or “Arsenal are unlikely to finish in the top four in the league”, but both “England” and “Arsenal” are teams – and a team is singular. “England is unlikely to qualify”, is not only correct, it sounds better – even if the outcome is just as disappointing.

The writer of another article in today’s newspaper couldn’t make up his/her mind about “group”: “The group say they do not blame…”, but farther on, “…exemplifies the frustration the group feels…”. (At least be consistent!) If, “The group says it does not blame…” sounded odd, it could easily have been resolved by writing, “The members of the group say…”, so that the subject was “the members” (plural), rather than “the group” (singular).

There’s a lot more on this to come, so watch this space.

Today’s picture

I took this in California in 1980. Is it the ultimate in bone idleness?