Natalie's Class Work

Subject/Verb Agreement

Any person who writes a sentence could technically call themselves a writer, but as you move into longer written forms of expression you find that as a writer you have certain “hang ups” like writing in a passive voice, switching their/there, problems with qualifiers, or subject/verb agreement. Because all writers will have a trouble spot somewhere in their writing, books have been written to help people identify their problems. These books help clarify the problems that many people may have and give assistance and suggestions to help with the writing process. Two good books that do just this are Style Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams and Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White.

These books give people rules for grammar and style, the proper way to do things and explanations of why you should not do certain things. Between these two books you are given examples of both ends of the instruction spectrum my example of a style rule will give you an example of a happy medium on the spectrum of instruction.

Examples from the Strunk and White book that have helped me are “make sure the reader knows who is speaking” and also “be clear” (White 76,79). Now the problem with these examples is your first thought could be “when I write I am using my own voice.” Strunk and White did not make this rule clear, they meant in dialogue make sure the reader knows who is speaking. A writer would also think they are being clear because they understand what they are trying to say. Whenever anyone writes something they try to be as clear as possible, they do not usually want to confuse their readers. The Strunk and White book is a great resource of style rules, but does not give you detailed examples of how to write clearly or how to keep the dialogue flowing in a written conversation. They are very abrupt with their style of presenting rule to readers.

Joseph Williams’ book takes an alternate approach on how to help writers understand the writing process. He gives many long and sometimes complicated examples on how to write. An example of this, he takes 3 pages to explain psychological subjects and how to write them properly. He tends to use incredibly hard and confusing example to show his rule. Finally at the bottom of the third page of the discussion on psychological subjects Williams’ states what he seemed to be trying to clearly state all along “the secret to a clear and readable style is in the first five or six words of every sentence” (Williams 52) Even though Williams tends to take the long way to get to the point he usually has very good examples a write can relate to.

Both authors have examples of what clear writing is. Williams states that reading prose that is clear and direct happens when “the subjects of the sentences name the cast of characters, and the verbs that go with those subjects name the crucial actions those characters are a part of” (Williams 21). Strunk and White state you should not “inject opinion and do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity” (White 79-80). As you can see neither of these rules are very clear on what clear writing is. So in an effort to assist writers in their quest for clear writing this is my rule.

Subject/Verb agreement:

· To write a passage clearly for all to understand you need to make sure that your subject of the sentence agrees with the action or the verb, and make sure that you do not leave out any needed details to make the passage readable.

An few examples of a misplaced subject would be:

· The cat barked as the mailman delivered the mail. This is obvious to all who read the sentence. Cats are not known to bark so the correct subject would have been the word dog.

From Williams (20):

· The current estimate is of a 50% reduction in the introduction of new chemical products in the event that compliance with the Preliminary Manufacturing Notice becomes a requirement under proposed Federal legislations.

This sentence is totally confusing because you cannot figure out what subject goes with what verb because they are all over the place in this sentence. Here is Williams more clear subject/verb agreeing sentence. The words in bold have been moved to make the subject and verb agree and make the sentence clearer.

· If Congress requires that the chemical industry comply with the Preliminary Manufacturing Notice, we estimate that the industry will introduce 50% fewer products.

From Strunk and White (10):

· One of those people who is never ready on time

The verb should be are because you are speaking of the plural form of the person which is the word people. So it should be:

· One of those people who are never ready on time

A good example of clear writing would be:

· “Nick opened the door and went into the room. Ole Anderson was lying on the bed with all his clothes on. He had been a heavy weight prizefighter and he was to long for the bed. Hey lay with his head on two pillows. He did not look at Nick.” (Hemingway 287)

This passage explains the actions of each subject. You know what Nick and Ole Anderson were doing in this passage. You are also given enough detail to get a picture in your mind of the setting and what the characters are doing. This helps you to follow the storyline of Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers.

Williams gives good examples in his book of changing around paragraphs to put the subject and verb closer together to make a passage more readable. Had Ernest Hemingway not added the Ole Anderson was a prize fighter we as readers would not have understood why two men in jackets were planning on killing him if he came to dinner at his normal restaurant. We as readers would also not have understood why this large prizefighter was laying in a bed that was too small for him. Had Hemingway not have added this we would have thought that mentioning Ole Anderson was to long for the bed was out of place and did not make sense in the story.

As writers we need to make sure we have given our readers enough details to follow along with our passages. If you do not understand where my paper is going you will get bored and stop reading it. A way for me to prevent that from happening is to make sure you as a reader can see my subject and verbs making sense. If I did not explain to you that there are different degrees of explanation in writing grammar and style rules you would have wondered why I was attempting to write a paper about this.

When you use my rule you will avoid a few rules dictated by Williams, Strunk and White. While making sure the subject and verb agree and you have enough details for the passage you will avoid overwriting. Strunk and White caution this because you want enough detail for the reader to follow along but too much detail will cause confusion and lack of interest in finishing your essay. Williams points out that when we add to many words or details the meaning of the piece is lost to wordiness.

No one intentionally writes an essay to be confusing, but if we have not taken the time to reread our papers to make sure that all aspects of good writing is in the paper we could all fall prey to being a bad example in someone’s writing book of what not to do. To make sure this does not happen follow my suggestion and make sure that your subject and verb agree and make sure you have included enough detail to assist the reading in understanding the point you are presenting. When you do this, you will find your writing will be more pleasant to read and easier to understand. Bibliography:

Hemingway, Ernest. “The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway.” The Scribbler Library, 1966. 279-289.

Strunk, William. White E.B. “The Elements of Style Fourth Edition.” Longman, 2000.

Williams, Joseph. “Style Toward Clarity and Grace.” The University of Chicago Press, 1999.


Natalie's Class Work