Disagreement occurs when two or more parts of a sentence are inconsistent. It is important for every part of your sentence to read as one cohesive piece. Not only will this help readers understand your writing, but it will also give you credibility. To strive for grammatical agreement, there are several areas worth noting that can help you recognize and remedy these errors when they pop up in your writing.
Subject-verb agreement is exactly what it sounds like. Whatever the subject of a sentence is, the verb has to match that subject. Essentially, the verb is doing all the work because it is the part of the sentence that will change its form, based on what kind of a subject it has.
Example: Diana writes a new song to perform at the talent show.
Here, “Diana” is a singular noun. Therefore, she requires a singular verb (writes).
Example: The singers write a new song to perform at the talent show.
“Singers” is a plural noun, which means it requires a plural verb (write).
TIP: Often, one word will have an –s at the end and the other will not. This is not always the case, but can help you if you aren’t sure which form of the verb to use.
Singular (no –s) noun has a –s ending verb
Couch – Reclines
Plural (–s ending) noun has a no –s ending verb
Batteries – Charge
Other times when singular or plural forms of a word can impact the agreement in a sentence is when you use what are called “indefinite pronouns.” These include words like “each,” “both,” “many,” or “all.” Knowing whether to use the singular or the plural form of the noun following this indefinite pronoun depends on whether the pronoun you choose refers to nouns separately or collectively.
Singular Example: Each girl will decorate her own dressing room.
“Each” refers to individual persons separate from each other.
Plural Example: Both girls decorate their dressing room.
“Both” references every member within the group collectively.
Below are some indefinite pronouns that either require singular nouns or need plural nouns. You can use this as you write to make sure you don’t make mistakes.
Requires Singular Nouns: Another, Each, Everybody, Everyone
Requires Plural Nouns: Both, Few, Many, Others
Fewer/Less & Amount/Number
Using the words “fewer” and “less” or “amount” and “number” requires knowing the difference between countable and uncountable nouns. Typically, using “fewer” or “number” requires a noun that you can physically or tangibly count. Using “less” or “amount” requires nouns that you cannot easily define with a specific number. For example, “raindrops” can be counted individually, while “rain” refers to the collective whole.
Example: I know fewer girls in the class than boys.
Fewer should be used in the context of counting.
Example: I like my math teacher less than my English teacher.
Less is used to modify words that are not countable.
Example: The amount of cake I ate at the wedding was shameful.
Amount refers to things accounted for as a whole.
Example: The number of people I danced with at the wedding who were not my fiancé was even more shameful.
Number refers to things that can be counted.
Working with verb tenses can be quite difficult. In most cases, when a tense is chosen (past, present, or future), the entirety of the piece will be written in that given tense. If a student is writing an essay in a class that requires MLA formatting, the writer will most likely write in present tense. For APA formatting, most pieces will be written in past tense. There are certain situations, however, when verb tenses will switch.
Example: My fear of walking sticks plagues me to this day. When I was in high school, one jumped on my back while I was sunbathing on our patio. It scarred me for life. Today, I always watch where I’m going in case there’s a walking stick ready to pounce.
In the above example, the narrator switches from present tense, to past tense, and then back to present tense. This is correctly written because the narrator is explaining a past event, which requires a switch in verb tenses.
The point-of-view of a paper or essay follows similar rules. When writers are assigned, or given the freedom to select their own perspective, it will most likely stay the same. For example, if you are writing an analytical essay on a novel, the references you make to the novel will always be in present tense. Likewise, if you are writing a narrative essay from the first person past tense perspective, the entire piece will probably follow that POV. There are, however, rare instances that allow multiple perspectives to coexist in a text. Below is an example of such a case.
Example: My sister and I are the complete antithesis of one another. You tell yourself to be happy that you’re not the same person, that you should be different so that you can grow independently, but that does not make you feel any better. You want to have conversations and laugh like friends, but you know that will not happen as long as you are worlds apart. I wish we could be closer, but I think we both have to grow up a little before a friendship can become a reality.
- The narrator is inviting the reader into a first-person account about a strained relationship. Although the narrator begins from the first-person point-of-view (“My sister and I”), the narrator changes to a second person perspective (“yourself”), giving more detail into the desire to have a stronger relationship.
- Most of the time, a switch in perspective occurs in works of fiction rather than academic writing. These switches can occur to create interest for your readers, especially when a writer uses the second person you to engage the reader personally with the story or point a writer is trying to make.
- Some professors condemn the second-person ‘you’ perspective in academic writing, as well as the first-person ‘I’. Before embarking on writing an essay, make sure you understand your professor’s preference and the rules of the assignment.