Friday, May 29, 2009

PUGS Pointers #26: Subject and Verb Must Agree

PUGS* Pointers
(*Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling)
by Kathy Ide

In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling (“PUGS”).

Letters as Letters
Italicize individual letters of the alphabet (unless used in a common expression). Examples:
the letter s
a capital M
He signed the paperwork with an X.
Mississippi is spelled with four i’s and four s’s.
Mind your p’s and q’s
Dot the i’s and cross the t’s

See The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition) #7.63.


coarse (adjective): not fine
“coarse cloth” “coarse language”

course (noun): a path, a customary procedure, or part of a meal
“in due course” “of course”
“collision course” “correspondence course” “golf course”
course (verb): to pursue or move swiftly
“Airplanes coursed across the sky above her apartment every day.”
“Hot blood coursed through Brenda’s veins as she wrote her suspense novel.”


Subject/Verb Agreement
Make sure the subject and the verb agree in number (singular or plural).
“The synopsis and sample chapter (two things) have to be mailed by Tuesday.”
“Each proposal (singular) has to be mailed separately.”
“Every contest entry (singular) has to be received before the deadline.”
“None (not one, singular) of the stories in that book is written in present tense.”

When a subject is followed by a phrase that refers to another entity (with or without commas), the added phrase does not change the quantity of the original subject.
“Terry’s bad grammar, as well as her typos, needs to be corrected.”
“The suspenseful plot combined with unexpected twists makes this a great book.”

Some collective nouns can be treated as either plural or singular, depending on whether you want the focus to be on the unit or on the individual members.
“The couple has a young daughter.” (refers to the two people as a single unit)
“The couple get along well together.” (focus is on two individuals, plural “they”)
“My family is very close.” (focus is on the unit, which is singular)
“My family want the best for me.” (reference is to several people, plural “they”)


freelance/freelancer/freelancing (no hyphen)


PUGS Pointers are based on the current industry-standard references in the United States.

For books:
The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition, © 2003)
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition, © 2003)

For articles:
The Associated Press Stylebook (© 2004)
Webster’s New World College Dictionary (© 2002)

Many publishing houses have their own in-house style guides that may differ in some aspects from the standard references. However, unless you’re writing exclusively for one particular publisher, it’s best to follow the standard references and let the in-house proofreaders adjust to house style.

For more PUGS Pointers, see Kathy Ide’s Web site: Or get her book Polishing the PUGS, available at


Kathy Ide has been writing for publication since 1988. She has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. She is a full-time freelance editor, offering a full range of editorial services for aspiring writers, established authors, commercial book publishers, subsidy publishers, and magazines. Her services include proofreading, copyediting, substantive/content editing, coauthoring, ghostwriting, and mentoring/coaching. She also speaks at writers conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network ( and the Christian Editor Network ( To find out more, please visit

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