Academic Tips and Tricks

All the help you need for good essay writing

Noun-Verb agreement when using paired dashes, commas and parentheses

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This might sound like a very complicated title, but it’s for a very simple problem.

“noun-verb agreement” is what you get when you conjugate verbs correctly depending on whether you have a plural or singular noun. Let me give an example:

‘The man’ is a singular noun, there is one man. So if you wanted to say ‘the man jumps’ you use the singular verb form ‘jumps’ not the plural form ‘jump’:

the man jumps

Similarly, if you have plural (more than one) men, you would use ‘jump’

the men jump

This initial problem is very like the one I explained when talking about referencing multiple authors by using ‘et al’ and what verb forms to use in this circumstance.

However, problems can occur when you start to use more complex sentences and it’s very easy to muddle up your verbs. For example, often what you’re trying to do with paired commas, paired dashes, or parenthesis is combine two simple sentences to make a point that contains additional information for supporting or clarifying the argument, but which is not essential to understanding the sentence itself, e.g. you might want to combine:

Most surveys generate a large amount of data


The National Student Survey generates a large amount of data

The problem here is you have a singular noun ‘the National Student Survey’ and a plural one ‘surveys’, and the two corresponding verb forms of ‘to generate’. So if you combined them like this:

Most surveys, such as the National Student Survey, **generate/generates** a large amount of data

Which form of ‘generate’ would you use?

The trick here is to imagine that the bit in between paired commas (or in parenthesis – or between paired dashes – )doesn’t exist, the verb should agree with the essential part of the sentence, not the additional part. So the verb here should be ‘generate’.

The same trick of ignoring the additional sentence part is also really useful for making sure your sentences are grammatically complete. Just don’t read additional parts and make sure what’s left still makes sense.


Author: Liz

Hi, I'm Liz. I like easy crafts, photography, cooking, lifestyle blogs and YouTube videos. I work as a part-time proofreader and am currently studying for a PhD in linguistics.

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