Subject/Verb Agreement

Subject/ verb agreement means that subjects and verbs must agree with each other in number. In other words, this means that if the subject of a sentence is singular, the verb that goes with it needs to be singular as well, and if the subject is plural, the verb needs to be plural. Even though this seems pretty straightforward there are some situations in which using the right form of the verb could cause problems.

In the sentence, ‘My brother is taking the bus to school,’ for example, ‘brother’ is a singular noun so the singular verb ‘is’ needs to be used. However, in the sentence ‘My brother, as well as most of his friends, is taking the bus to school.’ It is a lot less clear whether a singular or a plural verb needs to be used. The following guidelines will help you make sure that your subjects agree with your verbs.

  1. When the subject is made up of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by and you need to use a plural verb. So,

       He and his sisters are on vacation.

  1. 2. When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by or or nor, you use a singular verb.

      The chairman or the secretary is at the meeting.

  1. When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is             nearer the verb.

            The owner or his employees go to the bank every day.


            The employees or the owner goes to the bank every day. 

  1. You may be misled by phrases that come between the subject and the verb, but you have to make sure that the verb agrees with the subject, not with a noun or             pronoun in the phrase.

One of the men is injured.

            The girl with all the dogs walks down the road.

  1. You should use singular verbs with the words: each, each one, either, neither, everyone, everybody, anybody, anyone, nobody, somebody, someone, and no one.

            Each of these books is good.

            Nobody ever calls the emergency number.

  1. Nouns such as mathematics, civics, euros, measles, and news also need singular verbs.

          The news comes on at ten.

Note: words like euros or, for example, dollars, are a special case. When you are             talking about an amount of money, you need to use a singular verb, but if you are             are referring to the euros or dollars themselves, so the currency, you need to use             a plural verb. So,

             Ten euros for a ticket sounds quite cheap.

            Euros are often used instead of pounds.

  1. You need to use plural verbs for nouns like scissors, tweezers, trousers, etc.

           Those trousers look very cool on you.

  1. When using sentences beginning with there is or there are, make sure the subject follows the verb. So,

            There are many possibilities.

            There is one option. 

  1. Collective nouns, so nouns that are considered singular but are usually made up of multiple members, like team, committee, class, family, etc. take a singular verb             when they operate together as a group . Like in:

            The team lifts weights a part of their practice.

            The committee votes on the proposal.

If the members of the group represented by the collective noun operate             independently, (so doing different things probably at different times) you should             use a plural verb. Like in:

            The class write their thesis papers this year.

This means that the people in the class write theses on different topic, probably             at different times during the year. They don’t operate in unison for the same goal.

  1. Finally, when you use expressions like including, accompanied by, in addition to, or as well, the number of the subject does not change. If the subject is singular, so             is the verb.

           The King, accompanied by the Queen, is visiting the Netherlands.

‘Good’ or ‘Well’?

You can use both ‘good’ and ‘well’ to talk about the quality of something or someone, so ‘good’ and ‘well’ have a similar meaning. However, they are not interchangeable so it is important to know when to use one or the other.

But before we dive into discussing the difference between the two, let’s look at two examples.

He has always been a good learner.

They performed the task well.

 In the first sentence it would not be possible to use ‘well’ instead of ‘good’, and in the second sentence using ‘good’ instead of ‘well’ would also be wrong. So what is the difference between the two?

 ‘Good’ is an adjective, and you use it to describe a noun. Like in ‘ My brother said it was a good book.’ In this sentence the adjective ‘good’ says something about the quality of the noun ‘book.’

In the sentence ‘The weather was good today’, ‘good’ is used for the same reason. It describes the quality of ‘the weather’ and ‘weather’ is a noun.

You usually use ‘Well’ as an adverb to describe ‘How’ something happens. However, you can also use ‘well’ as and adjective to talk about ‘health’.

So in the sentence ‘The new computer worked well’, you use the adverb ‘well’ to talk about ‘How’ the computer worked and in the second sentence ‘He couldn’t come because he didn’t feel well’, ‘well’ you use ‘well’ as an adjective to talk about the ‘health of ‘he’.

When you talk about the senses, so about ‘ looking, feeling , and tasting, etc.’, you have to choose between ‘good’ and ‘well’ based on what you are trying to say. In the example ‘You smell good this morning’, you use good as an adjective to describe what ‘You’ smells like, but in the sentence ‘You smell well for someone with a cold’, you need to use the adverb ‘well’ to describe ‘How’ the quality is of the person’s sense of smell.  Also note that ‘smell’ is used as a ‘verb’ here, because you talk about how good ‘You’ is at ‘smelling’ things.

The following example ‘The woman looked good for her age’ is similar. You use the adjective ‘good’, to talk about how the woman (which is a noun) looked.

In the sentence ‘She had to look at the painting well to see the details’, you use the adverb well, to describe ‘how’ she had to look at the painting.

So, when it comes to using verbs for the senses in combination with ‘good’ and ‘well’ you have to choose based on what you want to say.

When choosing between ‘Good’ and ‘Well’ when talking about ‘health’ you always need to choose ‘well’, also if you are using verbs that refer to ‘the senses’. So you would say

‘She didn’t look well when she came back from school.’ When you want to comment on her health. You use ‘well’ in the sentence ‘I don’t feel well. I think I’m coming down with a cold.’ for the same reason.

Finally, when choosing between ‘good’ and ‘well’ when talking about a person emotions, you always use ‘good’, also when using verbs used for the senses.

So in the sentence ‘He doesn’t feel good about having to steal’, you use the adjective ‘good’ to describe the emotions of ‘he’ in relation to having to steal.

In ‘I felt so good after winning the race.’ You use ‘good’ to describe the emotions that ‘I’ felt after winning the race.

This means that when answering the question ‘How are you?’ you answer by saying

I feel well’ if you feel you are in good health and you answer by saying ‘I feel good’ if you are experiencing positive emotions.

And that is how you choose between ‘Good’ and ‘Well’. 

Amount of, Number of and Quantity of


Amount of, number ofand quantity of have more or less the same meaning, but they are not interchangeable. For instance, you can say ‘There is a huge amount of garbage in the backyard.’ Or, ‘A number of issues need to be addressed during the meeting.’  You could also say ‘Only a small quantity of sugar needs to be added to the mixture.’  Or ‘Very large quantities of food are needed to solve this crisis.’  

You use amount of for uncountable nouns. So, you would say ‘The amount of cement that you used is not nearly enough.’ because the noun cement cannot be counted. You cannot say ‘one cement, two cements’.  The same goes for the sentence ‘He had an incredible amount of luck.’ You cannot say ‘one luck, two lucks’.

You use number of to talk about  nouns that you can count. This means that you would say ‘The number of robberies has gone down in this area.’ because you can say ‘One robbery, two robberies’. The same applies to the sentence ‘This traffic sign should reduce the number of accidents.’ The noun accident can be counted.

If you want to be more formal than amount of or number of, you can also use quantity of or quantities of.  You can use them for both uncountable and countable nouns. This means that you could say the quantity of in combination with the uncountable noun salt in the sentence. ‘The quantity of salt in this product should be lowered.’  You could also say, however, ‘They found a considerable quantity of diamonds in that mine.’, when using the countable noun diamond.

Quantities of works in the same way. For instance you could say ‘We import large quantities of coffee every month.’ when using the uncountable noun coffee, and you could say ‘Large quantities of books will be needed to meet demand.’

And that is the difference between amount of, number of, and quantity of.


The History of the English Language

I found this video on the history of the English language that is both a pretty accurate and pretty funny summary of a semester-long course I took in college. If only YouTube had been around back then it would have saved me a lot of time because the content of this video is all I remember about the subject anyway. This is definitely worth watching.

Using Social Networks for Teaching English: Maybe Not

There has been a lot of discussion about the question whether social networks, like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter, should be adopted as tools for teaching English. Students nowadays spend much of their free time with these technologies and many teachers therefore feel that it is only logical for schools to capitalize on this phenomenon. Indeed, social networks could be useful for both sharing information and coordinating activities in an educational online setting, and over the last few years examples of this have become well-documented. Despite the fact that the benefits of using social networks for teaching English may seem obvious from a communication viewpoint, there are a number of ways in which social networks could have a negative effect on a student’s communication skills and could even hamper the language-learning process.

Much of the strength of using social networks lies in the fact that they enable students to express their ideas in a way that is easy, quick, and through a medium that is interactive and widely available. Online social networks allow students to learn about what interests them without help and offer them the opportunity to apply their knowledge in real-life situations. As a result students now read and write more than ever before. What should not be overlooked, however, is that social networks only provide a framework for communication. The quality of the communication that takes place often depends on the participants in the network and is impossible to control. This needn’t be a problem per say, but in many ways much of what takes place in social networks is not as life-like as it may seem, is not always of the desired quality, and may therefore not always be beneficial to the language-learning process.

Despite the name, social networks don’t require members to be very social and even allow users to behave in a way that would be considered inappropriate in other forms of spoken or written interaction. A reason for this is that communication in social networks is relatively anonymous and consequence free. Engaging in an online conversation is almost always optional and participants are often in a position to choose whether or not to participate in a conversation based on their own interests and on whom they want to interact with. Undesirable interaction can simply be avoided by either blocking the potential conversation partner or by simply choosing not to respond. Opting not to respond is often of little to no consequence because the relationships in the network are not likely to be as co-dependent or hierarchical in nature as in many other, especially work-related, situations in the offline world. For example, in a company it is important that a manager and his subordinate communicate in a manner suited for the type of relationship that they have. Both parties need to be respectful towards each other in order to maintain a healthy long-term working relationship. In other words, there is a need for both parties to get along. In social networks this need is not there due to the absence of co-dependent relationships. This has great consequences for the language that is used in terms of register and social etiquette.

The proper register for communication often is not used by the individuals in the network due to the aforementioned anonymity and the fact that it is often difficult to determine things like age, rank, and, sometimes even, gender. Because of this, people who are experts in a certain field, or who would be in a position of seniority or authority in an offline situation, are more likely to be seen as equals in online conversations, making the choice of the appropriate register and social etiquette not only difficult to determine, but also less relevant.

An additional factor that needs to be considered is that body language and the ability to read facial expressions have almost no role in interaction through social networks. The determination whether a conversation partner is angry or disappointed, for example, can only be based on the written text on the screen, making an appropriate response difficult and opportunities for a language learner to practice language that could be used in off-line social situations limited.

Another question that needs to be addressed is whether social networks are helpful for learning writing skills. Both reading and writing posts on social network sites happen fast and the entrees are generally short. The way many social networks sites are built does not encourage users to post well-structured, coherent arguments that take up more than a few sentences. In addition, responses to these posts also tend to be short, resulting in dialogues that hardly scratch the surface of the points the writers of the original posts were trying to make.

Finally, using networks that were designed for social interaction rather than professional might feel invasion of the student’s online personal space when being asked to use their social network for non-social purposes. After all, teachers wouldn’t ask their students to keep a log of their school activities in their personal diaries. An obvious alternative would of course be setting up a separate account on a social network for school-related activities only. However, that would make the whole concept of using social networks in a school setting quite forced and artificial.

In conclusion, I think it may be safe to conclude that social networks are a useful tool for sharing information and coordinating activities. Although they may also be a good practice ground for learning language appropriate for online communication, they are of little use in terms of teaching language appropriate in other situations.