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USAGE PROBLEMS

1. Subject-verb agreement
1.1.

The general rules

The verb agrees with its subject in Lumber and person. The agreement applies
whenever the verb displays distinctions in person and number. For all verbs other
than be, the distinctions are found only in the present tense, where the third person
singular has the s form and the third person plural has the base form.
The verb be makes further distinctions in the present and introduces distinctions in
the past.
The agreement affects the first verb in the verb phrase, whether it is a main verb or
an auxiliary. Modal auxiliaries do not make distinctions in number or person. If the
subject is a noun phrase, the main noun determines the number of the phrase. Noun
phrases coordinated with and are generally plural, even though the individual noun
phrases are singular. Clauses are generally singular. The rule of number agreement
between subject and verb applies to all finite clauses, whether they are main clauses
or subordinate clauses.
1.2.

And

The subject is plural if it consists of two or more phrases that are linked by and,
even if each is singular. It is plural when one of the main noun is implied though not
actually present. On the other hand, if the linked units refer to the same thing, the
subject is singular. If the noun phrases are introduced by each or every, the subject is
singular.
1.3.

Or, nor

If the subject noun phrases are linked by or, either...or, or neither...nor, the verb
may be singular or plural. When both phrases are singular, the verb is singular.
When the linked units are pronouns that require different verb forms, it is better to
avoid having to make a choice.

1.4.

With

When a singular noun phrase is linked to a following noun phrase by a preposition


such as with, the subject s singular even though the preposition is similar in meaning
to and.
1.5.

Collective nouns

A collective noun refers to a group of people or things.


1.6.

Indefinite pronouns

In formal writing, use singular verbs even when a plural phrase follows the
pronouns. Several indefinite pronouns and the fractions may be either singular or
plural. If they refer to one thing, they take a singular verb.
1.7.

Quantity phrases

Plural phrases of quantity or extent take singular verbs when the quantity or extent
is viewed as a unit.
1.8.

Singular nouns ending in s

Nouns ending in ics are singular when they refer to a field of study. Some of these
nouns are often used in a different sense and may then be plural.
1.9.

Who, which, that

The relative pronouns who, which and that have the same number as the nouns they
refer to.
1.10.

What

Either a singular verb or plural verb may be used with the pronoun what. The choice
depends on the meaning.
1.11.

There is, there are

In speech it is common to use a singular verb after introductory there even when the
subject is plural.

1.12.

Citations and titles

Citations and titles always take a singular verb, even though they may consist of
plural phrases.
2. Case
2.1.

Subject complement

2.2.

Coordinated phrases

We use the subjective case for the subject and for the subject complement; otherwise
we use the objective case. Errors of case may arise when a pronoun is coordinated
with a noun or another pronoun.
2.3.

After as and than

In formal writing, as and than are always conjunctions in comparisons. The case of
the pronoun depends on its function in the comparative clause, though the verb may
be absent.
2.4.

After but

But meaning except is a preposition. In formal writing, the pronoun following the
preposition but should be in the objective case.
2.5.

After let

2.6.

Who, whom

2.7.

Case with ing clauses

3. Auxiliaries and verbs


3.1.

Problems with auxiliaries

3.2.

Lie, lay

3.3.

Present tense

3.4.

Past and ed participle

3.5.

Past and were subjunctive

3.6.

Multiple negation

4. Adjectives and adverbs


4.1.

Confusion between adjectives and adverbs

4.2.

Comparison

4.3.

Only

4.4.

Dangling modifiers

Absolute clauses are non-finite or verbless adverbial clauses that have their own
subjects. A dangling modifier has no subject of its own, and its implied subject
cannot be identified with the subject of the sentence though it can usually be
identified with some other phrase in the sentence.