Writing Boot Camp


Quick Quiz: Subject

  1. My car is a piece of junk.
    What's the subject? car, junk, is, piece


  2. The cars my parents drive are also pretty crappy.
    What's the subject? cars, drive, crappy, drive, parents


  3. The man in the tan jacket is waiting for the bus.
    What's the subject? bus, jacket, man, waiting


  4. At last evening's basketball game, the Buff State team won.
    What's the subject? basketball, evening, game, team


  5. On TV, an interesting report said next month will be warmer and drier than usual.
    What's the subject? month, report, TV, usual


Answers: 1 car. 2 cars. 3 man. 4 team. report  



Names who/what the sentence is about

Noun or pronoun

Ignore adjectives, phrases, etc



Action part of sentence; what is being done

  • Used with or without an object (noun or pronoun)

  • Linking part of sentence; what something is (is, are, was, were)



Simple Subject

The teacher will grade the exam.

Two coaches will coordinate the practice schedule.

They want to go to the store.


Compound Subject

John and Mark will work together on the project.

The principal and her staff are at the conference.

SheilaMaria, and she will go to the store.



Singular Nouns

Usually do not end with s: toy, ball, algebra, Martin, college, book, friend

Don't be confused by exceptions: ethics, politics, athletics, measles, darts, bus, news, Jones, Maris



Plural Nouns

Usually end in s or es: toys, balls, colleges, books, friends

Don't be confused by exceptions: children, women, men, alumni, media, criteria, feet, teeth, mice


Don't be confused by word pairs with and that have a singular meaning:

Ham and eggs is my favorite breakfast. 

My drawing and painting class is cancelled tomorrow.


But sometimes the meaning is plural:

Ham and eggs are key ingredients in this omelet.



Placement of Subjects

Usually the subject comes before the verb. 

The premise of the book is that politics is inherently divisive. 


Exception: In a question, the subject is placed after the verb.

What is the purpose of this assignment? 

When will you study for the exam? 


Exception: The subject follows the verb in sentences beginning with there is or there are.

There are three reasons why this isn't a good idea. 

There are several possible answers


Exception: After an introductory phrase, the subject may follow the verb.

On top of the hill is a monument to military veterans. 



Quick Quiz: Subject

  1. The dog is chasing the squirrel.

  2. The car careened over the cliff.

  3. A file of test papers is on the teacher's desk.

  4. Harvey ate all the pizza.

  5. Pat and Chris make a cute couple.

  6. Either Toyota or Nissan imports the most cars to North America.

  7. Of special interest is the link between media and culture.

  8. Joe and Bill will drive the van.

  9. Does the coach think the tournament is important?

  10. There is no quick route to Summerville.

  11. When the alarm goes off, you will have 20 minutes to get to class.


Answers: 1 dog. 2 car. 3 file. 4 Harvey. 5 Pat and Chris. 6 Toyota, Nissan. 7 link. 8 Joe and Bill. 9 coach. 10 route. 11 you.  


Subject-Verb Agreement

Verbs must agree with the subject in both number and person

  • Number (singular or plural; she is, they are)

  • Person (first, second, third; I talk, you talk, they talk)

The boy chases the ball.  The boys chase the ball.

I like spaghetti. She likes spaghetti.


Ignore adverbs, which are words that tweak the meaning of verbs (and adjectives) but are not part of the verb.

The boy is not chasing the ball. (is chasing = verb; not = adverb)

She always prefers homemade pizza. (prefers = verb; always = adverb)

Marissa seldom studies in the library because her room is quiet. (studies = verb; seldom = adverb)




Confusion re: Subjects with Phrases

The subject is never part of a prepositional phrase (at, in, with, by, among, from, to plus noun/pronoun/gerund/clause), 


Don't make the verb agree with words in a phrase between the subject and verb.

The books in the library are new. (subject = books, not library)

The large number of cars on the road makes the drive home tedious. (subject = number, not cars or road)

One of my best friends is from India. (subject = one, not friends)

The sale of puppies by pet stores has declined because of new laws on animal care. (subject = sale, not puppies or stores)



Confusion re: Compound Subjects

The connecting word and usually makes a subject plural.

The principal and her assistants are at the conference. (compound subject, principal / staff;  verb = are)


The connecting word or/nor makes either a singular or plural subject (depends on which word is closer to the verb).

Either the principal or her assistant is at the conference. (just one person is at the conference)

Neither the superintendent nor the principal is at the conference. (just one person is skipping the conference)

Either the principal or her assistants were at the meeting. (with both a singular and plural subject, the verb agrees with closer subject)

Neither the assistants nor the principal was at the meeting.



Confusion re: Prepositions and Prepositional Phrases

Phrases introduced by prepositions such as together with and as well as do not make a singular subject plural.

The principal as well as her assistant was at the conference. (subject is principal)


Singular Pronoun

Most pronouns that do not refer to specific persons or things are singular: anybody, each, everyone, nobody, something, anything

Everyone in the department likes the new instructor.

Anything you say now is probably wrong.



Collective Nouns

A collective noun refers to a group of individuals or things, taken as a whole.

Most collective nouns are singular: department, jury, media, audience, family, team, council, staff, team, crowd, pride (of lions)

Because the home team is winning, the crowd is energized.

The family of five is going on vacation next week.


Numerical expressions usually are singular:

Half the class has voted. 

I think $2,000 is a lot of money.



Compound Nouns

Two nouns acting as one concept: bus stop, egg rolls, toothpaste

Adjective and noun as one concept: high school, full moon, self-esteem, blackboard

Verb and noun as one concept: washing machine, swiming pool, tanning booth, sunrise

Noun and preposition or prepositional phrase: check-up, mother-in-law




Quick Quiz: Subject-Verb Agreement

  1. The news reporter is / are  new in town.

  2. The first chapter in the book is / are  really just an introduction.

  3. The final chapter in both books is / are  confusing.

  4. On top of the desk is / are  the handouts.

  5. A flotilla of sailboats is / are moving down the river.

  6. Neither of these boys want / wants to see that movie.

  7. A driver's license or a credit card is / are  required.

  8. A driver's license or two credit cards is / are  reequired.

  9. Twelve inches of snow is / are  not unusual in Buffalo.

  10. The board of directors is / are  meeting next week.

  11. The board of directors meet / meets  next week.

  12. The department have / has  appointed a task force to study the problem

Answers: 1 is. 2 is. 3 is. 4 are. 5 is. 6 wants, 7 is. 8 are. 9 is. 10 is. 11 meets. 12 has.



Online Quizzes