The boy have gone.
Philips are in the house.
Kunle and Kelvin has not eaten.
The make-up artiste as well as her friend are cool and calm.
Neither Kunle nor the twins is in the class.
I pray he comes early.
One of the fundamental principles of English grammar is that the subject must agree with the verb used with it. This is particularly in terms of the number – whether singular or plural. The connection between the subject and the verb must be smooth because once there is a disconnect, the structure will break down, thus resulting in blunders.
Subject as the doer
‘Subject’ refers to the performer of the action in a clause. It refers to the doer while the receiver is called the object. In sentences in the active voice, the subject occupies the initial position while it is at or towards the end of the clause in the passive. Consider the subjects in the following sentences, which are in the active voice:
Jide swept the floor.
I like rice.
She sings well.
The visitor just arriving wants to see you.
The explosion wreaked havocs.
Jealousy ruined his mission.
All the terms in bold letters are the subjects of the clauses. What this means is that it is not only human beings that are subjects. Any other element can be, based on the role it plays in the structure.
In the first sentence (The boy have gone’, ‘has’ should go with ‘boy’ because a singular subject attracts a singular verb. In the second, ‘Philips’ is still a singular noun despite the fact that it ends with an s. So, ‘is’ is the correct verb with it. In ‘Kunle and Kelvin has not eaten’, the choice of ‘has’ is wrong because the subject is plural, which should attract ‘have’. The use of ‘and’ makes it clearly so. Ironically, the sentence after it is erroneous because ‘is’ ought to be used since ‘as well as’ is used to join ‘the make-up artiste’ and ‘her friend’.
Usually, it is said that once you have either…or and neither…nor, you opt for the singular verb:
Either Ade or Uche comes early.
Neither Ade nor Uche comes early.
Yet, care must be taken in practicalising this principle because the calculation will change if you have a plural noun close to the verb – as the law of proximity knocks out the singular verb. As a result, it is wrong to say ‘Neither Kelvin nor the twins is in the class.’ It is ‘Neither Kelvin nor the twins are in class.’ Lastly, ‘I pray he comes early’ is problematic because the verb is the subjunctive mood type. It will not follow the usual rule of singular subjects plus singular verbs. It is this strange subjunctive mood that normally governs constructions like I pray, I suggest, She recommends, We demand and they insist:
She goes there every day. (Correct)
I pray she go there today. (Correct. No more ‘goes’!)
He apologises once he knows he is wrong. (Correct)
We demand he apologise in writing. (Very correct)
Tinubu sacks ministers who fail to perform. (Correct, although the President has yet to do that. When he is ready, I can suggest about 15 names of those that should immediately leave his cabinet. I think Nyesom Wike and Dele Alake are not among such, though.)
The panel recommended that Tinubu sack the minister. (Correct. Not sacks.)
The subjunctive mood question is one of the factors that bred exceptions to the subject-verb agreement in English and we will discuss this more next week.