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Compound Subjects & Additive Phrases

First, four SC questions exploring this theme.

1) Neither the late 18th century composers, such as Mozart or Haydn, nor Beethoven, as well as Schubert in the early 19th century, were known to compose in the suite format, so popular in the Baroque period.

(A) were known to compose

(B) were known in composing

(C) were known for composing

(D) was known to compose

(E) was known by composing

 

2) A sitting Speaker of the House, as well as any sitting Senator from west of the Mississippi, has never been elected to the US Presidency, although four sitting eastern Senators have been elected to the office.

(A) A sitting Speaker of the House, as well as any sitting Senator from west of the Mississippi, has never

(B) A sitting Speaker of the House, as well as any sitting Senator from west of the Mississippi, never have

(C) No sitting Speaker of the House, as well as any sitting Senator from west of the Mississippi, has not

(D) No sitting Speaker of the House and no sitting Senator from west of the Mississippi has ever

(E) Neither any sitting Speaker of the House nor any sitting Senator from west of the Mississippi, have ever

 

3) Every elemental metal, including the Lanthanides and radioactive Actinides, have the ability to combine with oxygen to form an oxide.

(A) have the ability to combine with oxygen to form an oxide

(B) has the ability for combining with oxygen, forming an oxide

(C) are able to combine with oxygen, forming an oxide

(D) is able to combine with oxygen to form an oxide

(E) is able for combining with oxygen to form an oxide

 

4) Every Monday, either the math department chair or the members of the department posts a challenge problem to the student body, but usually it is so difficult that they cannot solve it in a week’s time.

(A) either the math department chair or the members of the department post a challenge problem to the student body, but usually it is so difficult that they

(B) either the math department chair or the members of the department post a challenge problem to the student body, but usually the problem is so difficult that the students

(C) either the math department chair or the members of the department posts a challenge problem to the student body, but usually the problem is so difficult that they

(D) either the members of the math department or the department chair posts a challenge problem to the student body, but usually it is so difficult that they

(E) either the members of the math department or the department chair post a challenge problem to the student body, but usually the problem is so difficult that the students

Explanations appear at the end of this article.

 

The basics of SVA

Of course, the basic rule of Subject-Verb Agreement is that single subjects take singular verbs (e.g. the student asks …) and plural subject take plural verbs (e.g. the students ask …).  In various verb tenses, SVA can have implications for auxiliary verbsIndefinite pronouns also raise some interesting SVA questions.

What happens to SVA when we start combining individual nouns to make a bigger subject?  Here are three rules you need to know.

 

Compound subjects: The AND rule

When two individual nouns are joined by “and”, as in P and Q, the resultant subject is always plural and always takes a plural verb, even if P and Q individually are singular nouns.  This is also true of the construction both P and Q: also always plural, also always takes a plural verb.

 

Compound subjects: The OR rule

The rule for OR is a little trickier.  These three constructions all follow the same rule for the OR pattern:

a) P or Q

b) either P or Q

c) neither P nor Q

What matters is only the number of the last term of the sequence.  If there are two terms, then only the second term matters: if the second term is singular, the subject takes a singular verb; if the second term is plural, the subject takes a plural verb.  Whether the first term is singular or plural doesn’t matter at all.  Thus:

5) Either the President or the three senators are going to speak ….

6) Either the three senators or the President is going to speak

7) Neither the CEO nor the members of the Board are responsible for

8) Neither the members of the Board nor the CEO is responsible for

All that matters is the number of the term closest to the verb: the number of the verb follows the number of this nearest term.

 

Additive phrases

There are many constructions that have a meaning similar to P and Q, but achieve this in the form [single noun] + [phrase].  For example,

a) P, as well as Q,

b) P, including Q,

c) P, in addition to Q,

In all of these, the phrase that follows P is called an additive phrase.   An additive phrase is not part of the subject, but is simply a separate noun modifier modifying the subject.   In all three of these, P alone is the subject, and if P is singular, the verb is singular.

 

Summary

If you had any insights while reading these rules, you may want to go back and redo the questions at the top before reading the explanations below.  Here’s another SVA practice question:

9) The Battle of Antietam

If you have any questions about the problems above, please let us know in the comments section.

 

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Practice problem explanations

1) Split #1: This subject is a neither P nor Q structure.  Whether the first term, P, is singular or plural does not matter at all.  All that matter is the second term, Q, which here is “Beethoven, as well as Schubert in the early 19th century.”   Of course, the “as well as” is an additive phrase, so does not count as part of the subject.  The only relevant subject is “Beethoven,” and of course Mr. Beethoven is singular.   We need the singular verb.  Choices (A) & (B) & (C) are all incorrect.

Split #2: to describe a single activity, the correct idioms is “known to compose”: these people did not do this one thing, composing suites, but that is not what made them famous overall.  The idiom “known for composing” is a correct idiom, but here it illogically implies that not composing suites is precisely what made these men famous: that’s ridiculous!  The construction “known by composing” even more illogically suggests that someone else, unnamed, does the composing, or the “not composing”, and this is how we know these men.  The construction “known in composing” is not a correct idiom at all.  Only (A) and (D) use the correct idiom for this context.

Choice (D) is the only possible answer.

 

2) Split #1a: in the constructions “A sitting Speaker of the House, as well as any sitting Senator …” and “No sitting Speaker of the House, as well as any sitting Senator …”, the “as well as” part is an additive phrase that is not part of the subject.  The subject, “Speaker,” is singular, so the verb must be singular.  Choice (B) is incorrect.

Split #1b: the construction “No sitting Speaker of the House and no sitting Senator …” is an ordinary compound subject, P and Q, so it is plural.  We need the plural verb, so the singular “has” is incorrect.  Choice (D) is incorrect.

Split #1c: the construction “Neither any sitting Speaker of the House nor any Senator …” is an OR subject; the second term, “any Senator,” is singular, so the verb has to be singular.  The plural “have” is incorrect Choice (E) is incorrect.

Split #2: Choice (C) involves a double negative, so it is incorrect.

Choice (A) is the only possible answer.

 

3) Split #1: The subject is simply “every elemental metal,” singular. The word “including” begins an additive phrase that is not part of the subject.  The subject is singular, so the verb must be singular.  Choices (A) and (C) are incorrect.

Split #2: the words “able” and “abilityidiomatically take the infinitive.  The structures “able to” or “ability to” are correct, and “able for” and “ability for” are always 100% incorrect.  Choices (B) and (E) are incorrect.

Choice (D) is the only possible answer.

 

4) Split #1: SVA.  This is an OR subject.  In the first three choices, the second term, “the members,” is plural, so we need a plural verb.  Choice (C) makes a SVA mistake.

In the last two choices, the second term, “the department chair,” is singular, so we need a singular verb.  Choice (E) makes a SVA mistake.

Split #2a: Pronoun problem.  After the comma, the “it” is meant to refer to the “challenge problem,” but could refer to “the student body.”  This is a pronoun with ambiguous antecedent.  We need to restate the noun, “the problem.”  Choices (A) & (D) make this mistake.

Split #2b: Pronoun problem.  The “they” is meant to refer to the students, but “student body” is singular collective noun.  The only plural noun is “the faculty members,” but it would be illogical for the pronoun to refer to them.   The “they” is wrong, and choices (A) & (C) & (D) make this mistake.

Choice (B) is the only possible answer.

 

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4 Responses to Compound Subjects & Additive Phrases

  1. Prakash August 17, 2014 at 10:03 am #

    Great explanation.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike August 17, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

      Dear Prakash,
      I’m very glad you found it helpful. Best of luck to you, my friend. 🙂
      Mike 🙂

  2. The Observer July 31, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

    Mike, you might want to proof read Q3 Option D.
    Cheers.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike August 1, 2014 at 9:48 am #

      Dear Observer,
      Thank you very much for pointing that out. I just corrected that typo. Best of luck to you!
      Mike 🙂


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