English - Concord (2)

Example

Choose the correct word in the sentence below:

One of the boys (is / are) taller than the teacher.

Having talked about the subject of the sentence in previous examples, we need to start the same way. We can break it down thus:

One of the boys (is / are) taller than the teacher
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SUBJECT EXTRA INFO

The subject carries out the verb. The subject contains the plural word, 'boys', but think about what is being said - ONE of the boys is taller than the teacher, so we are looking at a single person as the subject of the sentence. That means that the answer has to be 'is'.

For some people this is perfectly reasonable - I realise for some people it is counter-intuitive as it isn't what we always say. However, read extensively and you will see the standard English version would always use 'is' rather than 'are' if only one of a group is singled out as the subject of the sentence.

The opposite of this sentence will also use the singular part of the verb, thus:

Not one of the boys IS taller than the teacher.

The subject is ONE boy out of a group, with 'not' added purely to show the opposite. The subject is singular, even though the word 'boys' is plural. We have to picture whether one out of a group is being picked out or the whole group is being dealt with.

Remember that 'None' means 'not one' so the following is also right:

None of the boys IS taller than the teacher.


Example 2

Look at the following sentence and choose the correct word from the choices provided:

Each of the girls ( has / have ) been told before.

I wonder whether this is something that comes naturally to you? If it does, you may read on and find you are wrong - I've certainly had children confidently tell me which answer is correct on this question, only to look baffled to be told that they are wrong!

Let's do what we've done before and break the sentence into its constituent parts:

Each of the girls (has / have) been told before
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SUBJECT VERB

The subject, again, contains a word in the plural. The question is, should we treat the whole phrase as a plural - 'EACH of the girls'? The answer is no, we should not. EACH of the girls is a reference to one girl at a time. You can't say 'each girls' or 'each' followed by any other plural. Whenever you see the word 'each' it is to be treated as a singular subject. The correct answer is 'has' - Each of the girls HAS been told before. I hope this is starting to make sense now - you can see why children find it hard!

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