SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

Subject-Verb Agreement for ACT English: Tips and Practice

Posted by Justin Berkman | Jun 4, 2015 7:57:00 PM

ACT English

 

feature_owl.pngIn this article, we shall delve into the fun-filled world of subject-verb agreement on the ACT. Subject-verb agreement questions on ACT English are less common than punctuation questions; however, you can count on having at least a couple of subject-verb agreement on your ACT English section, so understanding this grammatical rule can easily help you improve your ACT English score.

While the grammar rule itself is relatively simple, the questions related to it can be challenging and a bit tricky. In this article, I’ll teach you strategies and tips to become a master of all things subject-verb agreement on the ACT.

In this post, I’ll do the following:

  • Give you a clear understanding of subject-verb agreement.
  • Explain why and how subject-verb agreement questions on ACT English can be tricky.
  • Offer general strategies that can help you correctly answer subject-verb agreement questions.
  • Provide you with practice questions so you can test what you’ve learned.

 

Review: Definition of a Subject

The subject of a sentence is the noun that corresponds with the verb in the sentence. In a sentence where there is an action, the subject is the noun that does the action. Doer of action=subject. Here's an example sentence:

Justin rescued a kitten from a burning building.

 

What is the subject? Justin. Why? Well, he is the hero who did the rescuing.

Similarly, in a sentence with a description, typically using a form of the verb "to be," the subject is the noun that is being described. See:

Justin is not funny.

 

Once again, "Justin" is the subject because he is the person who is not funny.

Now that we understand the concept of a subject, I'll define and explain subject-verb agreeement for you.

 

Explanation of Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb agreement is a rule that states that all subjects must agree with their verbs in number. If a subject is singular, then you must use a singular verb. If a subject is plural, then you must use a plural verb.

On the ACT, most subject-verb agreement questions deal with verb forms in the third-person singular (he/she/it/one) and third-person plural (they). In the present and present perfect verb tenses, third-person singular verb forms end in an "s."  Third-person plural verb forms do not. Look at this incorrectly written sentence in the present tense:

The reality television star read books.

 

This is the corrected version of the sentence:

The reality television star reads books.

 

While you may have intuitively known how to correct this sentence, and you could have relied on what "sounds right," you should understand why the original sentence was incorrect. The subject of the sentence is "the reality television star." She is the person who does the reading. Furthermore, since we're referring to one reality star, the subject is singular. Because our subject is singular, the verb needs to be in the singular form. In the present tense, "read" is plural. Therefore, we need to change the verb to the singular form "reads."

Let's look at another example with a plural subject. This is our incorrect sentence:

The singers performs bad cover songs.

 

How do we correct the sentence? Like this:

The singers perform bad cover songs.

 

The subject is "singers" because they are doing the performing. "Singers" is plural, so the verb should be in the plural form. The plural form of the verb is "perform."

 

body_singers.jpg

 

This rule may seem rather simple; however, of course, the ACT doesn't want to make life too simple for you. Subject-verb agreement questions on the ACT can be challenging. The sentences will be more complex than the ones above, and the subject-verb agreement errors will not be as obvious.

 

How Are These Questions Challenging?

Typically, when you encounter subject-verb agreement questions on the ACT, the subject will not be placed directly in front of the verb. The subject will either be separated from the verb by an interrupting phrase or, in rare cases, the sentence will be inverted and the subject will follow the verb. Here are ACT English tips you can use to identify the traps students fall for.

 

Trap #1: Interrupting Phrases

Interrupting phrases are phrases that separate the subject from the verb. These phrases make identifying the subject and determining whether the verb should be singular or plural more challenging. We'll take a look at a couple of types of interrupting phrases. You don't need to know all of the specific grammar terms, but you should understand and recognize the effect they have on subject-verb agreement questions.

 

Prepositional Phrases

The most common interrupting phrase that appears on the ACT is the prepositional phrase. Simply, a prepositional phrase is a phrase that begins with a preposition. What are prepositions? Prepositions provide additional details about nouns and often answer the questions "Where?", "When?", or provide descriptive information. Take a look at some examples of commonly used prepositions:

body_prepositions.png 

http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-a-preposition-definition-uses-examples.html

 

On the ACT, prepositional phrases tend to be inserted between subjects and verbs to distract from errors in subject-verb agreement. Here's an example of an incorrectly written sentence using a prepositional phrase as an interrupting phrase:

Changes for the new and improved ACT Writing section is going to be implemented soon.

 

First, let's identify the subject. What is going to be implemented? Changes. The phrase "for the new and improved ACT Writing section" is a prepositional phrase that begins with the preposition "for." The prepositional phrase describes the changes that will be implemented. See how the ACT can trick you by putting a singular noun, "section," right before the verb.

However, because "changes" is plural, the verb should be in the plural form. Unfortunately, "is" is singular. Here's how the sentence should look:

Changes for the new and improved ACT Writing section are going to be implemented soon.

 

So how do you avoid falling for this common ACT trap?

 

Strategy

Cross out the prepositonal phrase and the sentence should still be grammatically correct. Additionally, using this strategy will enable you to more easily identify the subject and determine whether there's an error in subject-verb agreement. Always remember that the subject will never be contained within a prepositional phrase. Let's employ this strategy with the incorrectly written sentence above:

Changes for the new and improved ACT Writing section is going to be implemented soon.

 

Now that the subject is right in front of the verb, the subject-verb agreement error is much more obvious. The strategy involves three steps:

  1. Cross out the prepositional phrase.
  2. Identify the subject.
  3. Determine if there's an error in subject-verb agreement.
Use this strategy and you'll be much less likely to miss a subject-verb agreement question on the ACT. You're welcome.

 

Actual ACT English Example Question

Let's use this strategy with an example taken from an actual ACT:

 

body_interrupting_prep_phrase.png

First, let's cross out the prepositional phrase.  Equipment for both types of kayaks are similar. We're left with "Equipment are similar." Even if the answer is obvious to you at this point, let's go through the remaining steps. The subject is "equipment," which is singular. The verb is "are," which is plural; therefore, there's an error in subject-verb agreement and the correct answer is G. Based on the context of the passage, the verb should be in the present tense.

The other types of interrupting phrases on the ACT serve the same function as the prepositional phrase in subject-verb agreement questions. They separate the subject from the verb. Let's take a look at another common type of interrupting phrase on the ACT.

body_know.jpg 

Non-Essential Clauses and Appositives

Non-essential clauses describe a noun, often the subject of a sentence. They are surrounded by commas and can be removed without creating grammatical errors or changes in the meaning of a sentence. Here's a sentence with the non-essential clause in bold:

My sister, who is very social, was elected class president.

 

The non-essential clause is separated by commas and serves to provide descriptive information about my sister. Removing the clause doesn't result in a grammatical error or change in the meaning of the sentence. Check it out:

My sister, who is very social, was elected class president.

 

One additional note about non-essential clauses is that a subject-verb agreement error can be contained within the clause itself. Take this sentence, for example:

Carbonated beverages, which is delicious, are not good for your health.

 

The verb in the non-essential clause, "is," corresponds with the subject "carbonated beverages." Because the subject is plural, the verb should be in the plural form as well. The sentence should read:

Carbonated beverages, which are delicious, are not good for your health.

 

While a non-essential clause usually starts with a relative pronoun (which, who, whose, or where), it doesn't in a phrase known as an appositive. An appositive serves the same purpose as a non-essential clause, but an appositive doesn't contain a verb. Here's a sentence with the appositive in bold:

My sister, a very social person, was elected class president.

 

The appositive provides descriptive information about my sister, but the phrase can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence or creating a grammatical error. 

How will knowing about these phrases help you answer subject-verb agreement questions on the ACT? Read below to find out.

 

Non-Essential Clauses and Appositives on the ACT

Just like prepositional phrases, non-essential clauses and appositives will be placed between subjects and verbs to make it less clear if there's an error in subject-verb agreement. Here's a sentence with a non-essential clause. I've underlined the subject and bolded the verb:

My boss, who is extremely kind to his employees, give helpful advice.

 

The non-essential clause separates the subject from the verb. The subject is "boss," which is singular, and the verb is "give," which is plural. There's an obvious error in subject-agreement. The sentence should read:

My boss, who is extremely kind to his employees, gives helpful advice.

 

On the ACT, you may encounter a similar sentence. Many students will incorrectly assume that the subject is "employees" because that is the noun closest to the verb. While "employees" is plural, the actual subject "boss" is singular. By correctly identifying the subject, you can avoid being tricked by the interrupting phrase.

The method you should you use to avoid being tricked is the same one I taught you for prepositional phrases.

 

Strategy

In sentences with non-essential clauses or appositives, always cross out those phrases. Doing so makes it much easier to identify errors in subject-verb agreement. Let's use this strategy with the incorrectly written exmple sentence from above:

My boss, who is extremely kind to his employees, give helpful advice.

 

After we cross out the non-essential clause, we're left with "My boss give helpful advice." The singular subject is right next to the plural verb. The error in subject-verb agreement should be obvious. Nice!

 

body_michaelscott.jpg

 

Actual ACT English Example Question

Let's put our knowledge to use. Here's another example from a real ACT:

 

body_non-essential_clause.png

In this example, the non-essential clause is surrounded by dashes, which serve the same function as commas in this sentence. The ACT folks threw in that extra curve ball because they also really like testing your knowledge of punctuation. If we cross out the prepositional phrase "of letters" and the non-essential clause, we're left with "Dickinson's last twenty years reveals." The subject is "years," which is plural, so the verb should be in the plural form. The answer is B.

Let's briefly discuss one last type of interrupting phrase you may encounter on the ACT.

 

Essential Clauses with "That"

Occasionally, an error in subject-verb agreement will involve a clause beginning with "that." The clause will end right before the verb. For sentences with these clauses, simply use the same strategy we used with non-essential clauses. Take a look at this sentence:

A book that has an interesting plot and well-developed characters are fun to read.

 

The essential clause begins with "that" and ends right before the verb "are." Just like we did with non-essential clauses, let's cross out the clause. We're left with "A book are fun to read." The singular subject is now right next to the plural verb. Here's the corrected version of the sentence:

A book that has an interesting plot and well-developed characters is fun to read.

 

There's another tactic the ACT uses, though much less common, to complicate basic subject-verb agreement questions.

 

Trap #2: Sometimes the Subject Comes After the Verb

In rare instances, the typical word order of a sentence will be altered so that a prepositional phrase appears at the beginning of a sentence and the subject follows the verb. In these instances, it can be particularly challenging to identify the subject and determine if there's an error in subject-verb agreeement. In order to illustrate this point, let's look at an example sentence with the prepositional phrase underlined and the verb in bold:

In the trunk of my car resides fifteen empty water bottles.

 

We know that a subject can't be contained within a prepositional phrase. Also, we know that a subject is the noun that's doing the action. In the sentence, what's residing? The water bottles. The prepositional phrase provides information about where the water bottles are residing. Because the subject is "water bottles," the verb should be in the plural form. This is the correct version of the sentence:

In the trunk of my car reside fifteen empty water bottles.

The correctly written sentence may sound more awkward to you because the singular noun "car" is placed right next to the plural form of a verb. You should focus on the rules and strategies as opposed to just relying on what "sounds right."

In extremely rare situations, the subject follows the verb but is not preceded by a prepositional phrase. Check out this sentence:

Skipping school is fun, but less fun is its consequences.

 

In this sentence, what is less fun? The "consequences". Therefore, in the second clause, "consequences" is the subject. The verb "is" corresponds with the subject "consequences." Because we have a plural subject and a singular verb, there's an error in subject-verb agreement. This is the corrected version of the sentence:

Skipping school is fun, but less fun are its consequences.

 

Is there a way to simplify these types of sentences to help determine if there's an error in subject-verb agreement? Of course.

body_hooray.jpg Strategy

In sentences in which the subject follows the verb, rearrange the sentence so that it follows the normal structure of subject then verb. Using this strategy will allow you to more easily spot any errors in subject-verb agreement.

If you utilize this method in the incorrectly written sentence above, you'd be left with "its consequences is less fun." The plural subject is now right next to the singular verb and the error should be immediately apparent.

Now, we'll cover one more unique situation that can complicate the most basic subject-verb agreement questions.

 

Trap #3: Compound Subjects

A compound subject is a subject in which two singular nouns are connected by "and." In a sentence with a compound subject, you should use the plural form of the verb. Here's a basic sentence demonstrating this rule:

Justin and the ACT are friends.

 

Because the subject is both "Justin" and the "ACT," the verb should be in the plural form. 

This is a more complicated example in which a prepositional phrase is also placed at the beginning of the sentence:

In between the cushions of my couch is change and an old pen.

 

First, let's rearrange the sentence so that the subject comes before the verb. What's in between the cushions? Change and an old pen. So after doing our rearranging, the sentence should read "Change and an old pen is in between the cushions of my couch." The subject is both change and an old pen; therefore, the verb should be in the plural form. This is the corrected sentence:

In between the cushions of my couch are change and an old pen.

 

At this point, we're aware of the ways the ACT complicates basic subject-verb agreement questions. We've also learned specific strategies to use when faced with certain types of situations. Here are some general tips to follow to help you correctly answer any subject-verb agreement question you may encounter on the ACT.

 

General Strategies for ACT Subject-Verb Agreement

Look for Errors in Subject-Verb Agreement When a Verb Is Underlined

If a verb is underlined, make sure there are no errors in subject-verb agreement.

 

Singular and Plural Forms of the Same Verb in the Answer Choices Signal a Possible Error in Subject-Verb Agreement

On the ACT, you can often figure out what's being tested based on the underlined phrase and the answer choices. If you see that there are singular and plural forms of the same verb in the answer choices, determine if there's an error in subject-verb agreement.

 

Always Identify the Subject

Both subjects of sentences and subjects of clauses must agree with their verbs. For each underlined verb, find the noun that corresponds with that specific verb. Then, determine whether that subject is singular or plural and make sure that the subject and verb agree.

 

The Subject Is Never Part of a Prepositional Phrase

Be aware that a subject will not be part of a prepositional phrase. Most subject-verb agreement questions on the ACT separate a subject from a verb with a prepositional phrase. Remember the strategy of crossing out the phrase to aid in answering these questions.

 

Be Able to Recognize the Common Tricks

Knowing the common tricks the ACT English section uses on questions that test your knowledge of subject-verb agreement can be helpful. The better you know these tricks, the more quickly you'll be able to recognize them and use the appropriate strategies to correctly answer subject-verb agreement questions.

 body_practice-1.jpg

 

Additional Practice

Hopefully, by this point you thoroughly understand subject-verb agreement and how to correctly answer any subject-verb agreement question that may appear on the ACT. I've created some realistic ACT English practice problems to test you on what you've learned. Remember to use the general strategies I referenced above. 

 

1. Beautifully written sentences composed by the prolific and talented author has been integral to his success.

A. NO CHANGE  
B. have been
C. was
D. is being

 

2. The size and style of the dress is not to my liking.

A. NO CHANGE
B. was
C. will being
D. are

 

3. The selfish man, who owns five cars and two houses, has been unwilling to give any money to charity.
 
A. NO CHANGE
B. were
C. have been
D. has being

 

4. Mastery of grammar rules are essential to doing well on ACT English.

A. NO CHANGE
B. are being
C. is
D. were

 

5. Swimming pools that are above ground are often mocked by snobs.
 
A. NO CHANGE
B. are being
C. is
D. will been

 

 

Answers: 1. B., 2. D, 3. A, 4. C, 5. A

 

What's Next?

Now that you're comfortable with subject-verb agreement on the ACT, familiarize yourself with everything that's actually tested on ACT English. You'll probably want to read this article about commas, too.

For those overachievers out there, find out how to get a perfect score on ACT English from a perfect scorer.

 

Want to improve your ACT score by 4 points? 

Check out our best-in-class online ACT prep program. We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your ACT score by 4 points or more.

Our program is entirely online, and it customizes what you study to your strengths and weaknesses. If you liked this English lesson, you'll love our program. Along with more detailed lessons, you'll get thousands of practice problems organized by individual skills so you learn most effectively. We'll also give you a step-by-step program to follow so you'll never be confused about what to study next.

Check out our 5-day free trial:

ACT Free Signup

 

Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Justin Berkman
About the Author

Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.



Get Free Guides to Boost Your SAT/ACT
100% Privacy. No spam ever.

You should definitely follow us on social media. You'll get updates on our latest articles right on your feed. Follow us on all 3 of our social networks:

Twitter and Google+



Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!