English - Concord (3)

Example

Look at the sentence below and choose the correct word from the two provided:

(Is / Are) either of the children able to answer the question?

Again, I reckon many of you parents will be falling into a trap on this one. Call me cynical, but years of little or no grammar teaching is starting to reap rewards of the wrong kind. Children find this very tricky when they are taught it, so how can we who weren't taught it be expected to overcome our ideas formed from common speech?

The sentence is broken down like this:

(Is / Are) either of the children able to answer the question
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VERB SUBJECT

The subject of the sentence is, again, about one person out of a group. Although 'children' is a plural and we are dealing with two of them, the actual subject is 'EITHER of the children' so it is referring to one or another - i.e. one at a time. It may seem odd but the subject is singular so the sentence needs the singular form of the verb.

IS either of the children able to answer the question?

The opposite of the sentence will follow the same pattern. 'Neither' also refers to one of them at a time and is singular.

IS neither of the children able to answer the question?


Example 2

Look at the following sentence and choose the right words to fill the gap:

Why (do / does) every one of us always (do / does) the same thing?

This time we have two words to find - otherwise it is the same as the previous questions. The sentence structure is less straightforward and we can't simply pick out the subject for each verb.

Let's look at a slightly different sentence:

Every one of us DOES the same thing.

The sentence is using 'every one of us' as a subject and there are several individuals being talked about. 'One does' therefore 'every one does'.

In the question we were asked initially, the sentence structure is quite different. The agreement (concord) that we need to look for comes with the first choice of 'do / does' and 'every one of us'. We know 'every one' is counted as singular so we use 'does'.

The second word choice is different - given the structure of this sentence, it must always be 'do'. The infinitive (the part of the verb that has 'to' in front of it) is always needed in this situation.

The correct answer to the question must therefore be:

Why DOES every one of us always DO the same thing?

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