When I check a student’s writing for the first time, I am almost guaranteed to spot a few errors related to subject-verb agreement.
Most of these errors are fairly easy for students to identify when proofreading their work, but one type of subject-verb agreement error is difficult for even advanced students to grasp. That type of error relates to gerunds as subjects.
Understand that a gerund is derived from a verb but functions as a noun. It ends in -ing. As in:
“Jogging is my favorite type of exercise.”
“Shopping for my sister is quite difficult.”
“Jogging” and “shopping” look a lot like verbs, but function as nouns. Therefore, we need to pick the right verb later in the sentence.
Here’s what you need to remember: For the purpose of subject-verb agreement, gerunds should be treated as a singular noun (I usually ask my students to treat them like “it”). In this sentence we must say “jogging is” and “shopping is.” We must not say “jogging are” and “shopping are.”
Here’s a sentence I got today:
“The lecturer, on the other hand, posits that finding a lot of incomplete fossils are better than finding only a few complete ones.”
Can you see the error? Yes, this should be:
“The lecturer, on the other hand, posits that finding a lot of incomplete fossils is better than finding only a few complete ones.”
The gerund is “finding,” so the proper verb form is “is.” This was difficult for the student because there are a lot of words between the gerund (finding) and the verb (is). This is something you need to watch for when you proofread your work.
As always in English, there are exceptions. Some gerunds can be countable and this will have a plural form. For a list of those, consult this page.
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