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Sentence Agreement

Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns, like collective nouns, can be singular or plural, depending on how they are used in a sentence. Singular indefinite pronouns take a singular verb; plural indefinite pronouns take a plural verb. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Indefinite pronouns that end in -one are always singular. These words include anyone, everyone, someone, and one.
  • Indefinite pronouns that end in -body are always singular. These words include anybody, somebody, nobody.
  • The indefinite pronouns both, few, many, others, and several are always plural.
You Could Look It Up

Indefinite pronouns refer to people, places, objects, or things without pointing to a specific one. See Parts of Speech for a complete description of indefinite pronouns.

  • The indefinite pronouns all, any, more, most, none, and some can be singular or plural, depending on how they are used.
  • Flag this chart for ready reference.
Indefinite Pronouns
SingularPluralSingular or Plural
anotherbothall
anyonefewany
eachmanymore
everyoneothersmost
everybodyseveralnone
everything some
much
nobody
nothing
other
someone
anybody
anything
either
little
neither
no one
one
somebody
something
Danger, Will Robinson

The indefinite pronoun many a is always singular, as in “Many a person is sick and tired of eating sautéed antelope on melba toast.”

  • Check out these examples:
  • One of the Elvis impersonators is missing.
  • The singular subject one requires the singular verb is.
  • Both of the Elvis impersonators are missing, thank goodness.
Danger, Will Robinson

British English follows the same rules of agreement, but there are subtle differences in usage. For example, our neighbors across the pond consider the words company and government plural rather than singular nouns.

  • The plural subject both requires the plural verb are.
  • All the sautéed rattlesnake was devoured.
  • The singular subject all requires the singular verb was.
  • All the seats were occupied.
  • The plural subject all requires the plural verb were.

The Pause That Refreshes

Circle the correct verb in each sentence.

  1. Economics (depends/depend) heavily on mathematics.
  2. The light at the end of the tunnel (are/is) the headlight of an approaching train.
  3. News of a layoff (causes/cause) many people to get worried.
  4. Millions of Americans watched the high-speed chase and most (was/were) mesmerized by the event.
  5. Some people believe that TV rots your brain; others, in contrast, (believes/believe) that TV can teach us important social lessons.
  6. Both of those cities (were/was) on my vacation route.
  7. The commuters wait at the bus stop. A few (sleep/sleeps) standing up.
  8. One of our satellites (is/are) lost in space.
  9. The supply of beta-endorphins in the brain (is/are) increased during exercise.
  10. Too many onions in a stew often (causes/cause) an upset stomach.
Answers
1. depends 6. were
2. is7. sleep
3. causes8. is
4. were9. is
5. believe10. cause
Quoth the Maven

In many cases, a prepositional phrase intervenes between the subject and the verb. See Parts of Speech for a review of prepositional phrases.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.


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