Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

Tips on Grammer


A few areas of grammer cause problems for some student writers. This page will identify three of those difficult points: subject/verb agreement (the rule that singular subjects go with singular verbs and plural subjects go with plural verbs), correct word class (using nouns, adjectives and adverbs in their proper place), and verb tense consistency (remembering to keep to the present or past tenses).

The purpose of this page is not to teach you the grammar, but to remind you that these are important points to remember and look out for when you are editing your assignments.


Subject-verb agreement

Correct word class

Verb tense consistency

1. Subject-verb agreement A singular subject must take a singular verb, and a plural subject must take a plural verb. The only verb form that is affected by this rule is the third person simple present; but since this verb form is the one you will use most in your studies, it is essential that you master the subject-verb agreement rule as quickly as possible.

In these examples, the subject is underlined and the verb is in italics:

  • The Prime Minister is meeting the President of the United States at the White House.
    (singular subject: ‘Prime Minister’; singular verb ‘is meeting’)
  • The Prime Minister and the President are meeting at the White House (plural subject:
    ‘PM and President’; plural verb ‘are meeting’)
  • Glass breaks easily / Glasses break easily.
  • The computer is a useful tool / Computers are useful tools.
  • The lion has eaten the zebra/The lions have eaten the zebra.

2. Correct word class (noun? verb? adjective? adverb?) Words must be used in their correct form according to what they are doing in the sentence.
A word being used as a subject or object must be in noun form; a word being used to describe
a noun must be in adjective form; a word being used to qualify a verb must be in adverb form;
and so on.

Examples (these sentences have been specially written to show the different forms: they aren’t well written in other respects!):

These managers differ1; one difference 2 between these different3 managers is that they manage differently4.

1    ‘differ’ is the verb in this part of the sentence

2    ‘difference’ is being used as a subject, so it is noun form

3    ‘different’ describes the managers, so it is in adjective form

4    ‘differently’ tells us how the managers manage, so it is in adverb form

  • This is a productive company; it produces many products productively and has increased
    productivity.
  • In the national interest, the nation will nationalize nationally.
  • 3. Verb tense consistency

    Not only must you know which tense to use, you must use tenses consistently.

    For example, when you are describing something that is happening now, stick to the present tenses,
    and when you are describing something that happened in the past, stick to the past tenses.

    Present tenses: present simple, present continuous, present perfect. Past tenses: past simple, past
    continuous, past perfect.
    The shop assistant is telling the customer that the shop has not yet received the goods
    she needs urgently; he says he is going to send them as soon as they arrive.
    The shop assistant was telling the customer that the shop had not yet received goods
    she needed urgently; he said he was going to send them as soon as they arrived.
    Remember that the findings/results section of a report should be in the past tenses, as it records
    what you did, saw, found, etc.