Concord is the need for grammatical agreement between the different parts of speech in a sentence. The word concord comes from the Latin word for understanding.
Concord is needed for our sentences to make sense. All the words in a correction need to have the right relationships with each other. Otherwise, the sentence won’t sound right.
While nine parts of speech make up English grammar, only two are necessary for a sentence: the verb and the subject. For this reason, concord in English is sometimes referred to as subject-verb agreement.
Types of concord in English grammar
There are several different types of concord in English grammar. Here are the ones you’re most likely to come across, with examples to demonstrate how they operate.
Grammatical concord is the most accessible type of subject-verb agreement, and we always learn first. But, it means that if the sentence has a singular subject, it must also have a singular verb. If the sentence’s subject is plural, the verb must be plural, too.
The sentence’s subject is the person, animal, or thing doing the action. The subject might be singular or plural. Let’s look at two sample sentences:
- The teacher speaks to the class.
- The teachers talk to the class.
In the first sentence, the subject (the teacher) is singular, so the sentence uses the singular verb ‘speaks.’ There’s more than one teacher in the second sentence, so the plural verb ‘speak’ is used.
Things get a little more complicated when we add an object to the sentence before the verb, as this can sometimes be mistaken for the subject. So we must be careful when looking at these kinds of sentences. For example:
- The books in the cupboard are stacked neatly.
- The dog in the garden is running around.
In the first example, the books are the subject, not the cupboard. Therefore we use the plural verb ‘are.’ However, the issue in the second sentence is singular (‘the dog’), so we use the singular verb ‘is’ in this case.
Grammatical concord with more than one subject
What happens if there are multiple subjects in a sentence? If there’s more than one subject, these work together as a plural subject, so the verb is plural, like this:
- Jack and Ali were caught in the rain.
Because there are two subjects (Jack and Ali), we use the plural verb ‘were’ instead of the singular ‘was.’
However, there are a couple of exceptions to this rule.
The first exception is when both subjects are the same person or thing. For example:
- The largest animal and loudest sea creature is the blue whale.
- The singer and songwriter are Harry Styles.
In both cases, the subjects are the same person or animal, so we use the singular verb ‘is’ in both sentences.
The other exception is when two things are invariably linked together in people’s minds to the point where, when spoken about together, we think of them as one thing. Here’s an example:
- Fish and chips are my favorite dinner.
We always think of fish and chips as one dish, even though they’re different and can be eaten separately. When we refer to them together, we use the singular verb ‘is.’
Proximity refers to the closeness of two things. In the case of sentences, we often show proximity between two subjects by using the correlating conjunctions ‘ either/ or ‘neither / nor.’
If both subjects are singular, the verb takes a particular form, as in these examples:
- Either the Prime Minister or the Chancellor is attending the meeting.
- Neither Mary nor her mother eats meat.
But what happens when one subject is singular and the other is plural? In these cases, the verb takes the form of the subject nearest to it in the sentence, like this:
- Either the Prime Minister or other Government ministers are attending the meeting.
- Neither Mary nor her parents eat meat.
Both sentences put the plural subject closest to the verb, so the verb takes its plural form in both cases. If we reversed these sentences, so the singular subject was second, the verb would take its particular form (‘Neither Mary’s parents nor Mary eats meat’).
The idea of notional concord relates to collective nouns. We use these to refer to a group of people, animals, or things. Some examples include:
When using collective nouns, the verb takes its singular form if no action is taken in the sentence. If there is action happening, the verb should be plural, as the people or animals in the collective are all taking action as individuals, even if it’s the same action as each other. Let’s take a look at two examples:
- The class has the best exam results in the school.
- The course is sitting at their desks.
In the first example, no action is taken – the sentence states a fact, so the verb here is singular. In the second example, the children in the class are individually taking the action of sitting at their desks, so we use the plural form of the verb.
Indefinite pronoun concord
Indefinite pronouns are pronouns that refer to things vaguely rather than specifically. They give us ways to talk abstractly about people, items, and quantities. Some examples of indefinite pronouns are:
- nothing/no one/nobody
When the subject of a sentence is an indefinite pronoun, we always use a singular verb. For example:
- Everyone is coming to the party.
- Something has to be done about this.
- Is anybody there?
We use all measurements in our speech and writing, so making the verb agree with the size we’re describing is essential. When talking about time, money, amount, or distance measures, Here are some examples:
- Two weeks is not long enough for our Christmas holiday.
- Three hundred dollars is too much to spend on a concert ticket.
So, whether we’re talking about hours, kilometers or teaspoons, we always use the singular form of the verb.
However, things change when we’re talking about percentages or fractions. In these cases, the verb takes the same form as the subject, like this:
- 50% of the building is occupied.
- Half the students are boys.
In the first sentence, the subject (the building) is singular, so the verb is unique, too. In the second case, the issue (the students) is plural, so the verb takes the plural form.
We should also mention comparative measurements here, such as ‘more than’ and ‘fewer than.’ If we’re using these expressions to talk about amounts of something, the verb needs to correlate with the subject, singular or plural. For example:
- More than one child is singing a solo in the concert.
- Fewer than ten days have been dry this month.
We can see here that the first example has a singular subject, so the verb is also unique. We use a plural verb in the second sentence, which has a plural subject.