Subject-Verb Agreement on the New SAT
The SAT has always loved agreement—it’s easy to test and it’s easy to make the question difficult. But first let’s talk about what agreement is: it is when the subject and verb are consistent in terms of number.
What does “number” mean in this context? It refers to whether a noun is singular or plural. The difference is the verb. Some verbs will take an –s at the end depending on whether the subject is singular or plural.
- He watches many movies.
- They watch many movies.
- I watch many movies.
The SAT is more concerned with abstract nouns like “the analysis”, “the observation”, “the description”. All of these nouns are singular and correspond to the third person pronoun “it”.
- The analysis shows that Tim is the better soccer player.
- It shows that Tim is the better soccer player.
Notice the –s in show. This throws a lot of students off at first. If something is plural, they think, shouldn’t it have an –s at the end of it? Well, that something is the subject. The –s we are talking about comes at the end of the verb. And verbs are not something that you can pluralize.
Granted, it is still a little confusing. But remember that the ‘-s’ only comes at the end of the verb if the subject/noun is singular (he, she, it, or some abstract noun that is singular).
If you’ve gotten what I’ve said so far and are thinking, what’s so hard about that? The SAT has a little trick up its sleeve.
- The analysis of the two soccer players show that Tim is the better player.
What’s the subject?
Many students think that the subject is “two soccer players”, which is plural and that “show” is the right answer. However, “two soccer players” is not the subject. The subject, at least on the SAT, will always come before the first preposition (words such as “of”, “in”, “on”). Notice in the sentence above the “of” that comes after analysis. The subject will always come before that preposition.
Take another stab to see if you can find the subject.
- Research into the habitats of meerkats show that the animal is highly social.
What’s wrong with the sentence?
Well, first figure out what the subject is. Remember to look at the first preposition. If you spot the “of”, don’t think that’s the first preposition because it was so in the previous example. Go back further in the sentence to “into”, which is a preposition. Therefore, the subject—it will come before the first preposition—is “research”, which is singular. Therefore, “show” should be “shows”. Logically, you can also think of it as what’s doing the showing? It’s not the “habitats” or the “meerkats” (they are too busy watching their manors), but the research.
See if you can figure out what the subjects in the following sentences are:
- A mastery of cardiopulmonary techniques and other lifesaving tactics potentially turns an average person into an instant hero.
- The number of students who are pursuing postsecondary education is increasing annually.
In the first sentence, the subject is “mastery”; in the second sentence, the subject is “number”. Both are singular so the main verb of the sentence takes an –s at the end (“turns” in the first sentence; “is” in the second. Remember, that an –s at the end of the verb indicates a singular subject. In the case of “to be”, that’s not necessarily the case).
Be now you might have noticed how the SAT makes agreement questions difficult: it increases the “distance” between the subject and the verb that refers to that subject.
To illustrate this, I’ve eliminated all the words that come in between the subject and the verb:
- A mastery
- The number
To become strong at these question types that is what you have to do: Quickly ignore the extra words and home in on the subject, which comes before the first preposition.