The most common error that learners of English make is in the area of subject-verb agreement. Subject-verb agreement is defined as the agreement of a verb with its subject in person (first, second, or third) and number (singular or plural). Learners get confused when prepositional phrases come between the subject and verb. A prepositional phrase is a phrase that begins with a preposition — on, in, of, at, between, among, with, without, and so on. A prepositional phrase does not contain the subject of the sentence and therefore learners need not get confused. Here are some examples:
• Students from the Indian sub-continent are required to write an English proficiency test.
• Indian expatriates in Rwanda celebrate the Indian Independence Day every year.
• Three cricketers of the Rajasthan Royals team have been arrested for their involvement in spot-fixing.
In the sentences above, the subjects are: students, Indian expatriates and three cricketers and they are in plural in number and therefore they are followed by plural verbs: are required, celebrate, and have been arrested respectively. All the three prepositional phrases (in bold) in the sentences above end in singular nouns (sub-continent, Rwanda, team) and that may cause confusion to the learner whether the verb that follows should be in singular or plural form. Here are more examples:
1a) Incorrect: Minister for human resources have asked educational institutions to follow rules or face action.
1b) Correct: Minister for human resources has asked educational institutions to follow rules or face action.
2a) Incorrect: The crime branch inspectors of the State police is looking for more suspects involved in betting in the IPL matches.
2b) Correct: The crime branch inspectors of the State police are looking for more suspects involved in betting in the IPL matches.
3a) Incorrect: The three-day visit of the African cardinals and bishops start on June 1.
3b) Correct: The three-day visit of the African cardinals and bishops starts on June 1.
Adjective clauses, appositive phrases and participle phrases may also come between a subject and a verb. These phrases and clauses may fool the learner into thinking that the noun in the phrase or clause is the subject. The learner should know that a verb agrees with its subject and not with a word in the phrase or clause. Look at these examples:
• One of my brothers is a scientist in Canada.
• The cat chasing the rats belongs to you.
An appositive is a combination of words. It is used to rename a noun or to describe it. An appositive phrase can come between a subject and a verb. It can also come at the beginning or end of the sentence. For example:
• Mr John Thomas, plus some of his colleagues, wants to discuss the proposal with you.
• A man known for humanity and charity, Fr Ceyrac died a year ago in Chennai.
Learners should know that the verb agrees with the main subject. An appositive or an appositive phrase is something that does not affect the verb.