Academic journal article The English Teacher

An Alternative Method of Teaching Subject-Verb Agreement

Academic journal article The English Teacher

An Alternative Method of Teaching Subject-Verb Agreement

Article excerpt


Subject-verb agreement is a problem area for many students and teachers in schools and tertiary institutions. Many language teachers including the experienced ones find it difficult to teach this aspect of grammar effectively. Subject-verb agreement is the backbone of sentence structure in English, and this can be seen in common sentence patterns such as S-V, S-V-O, S-V-O-O, S-V-A, and S-V-C where every sentence contains a verb. It deserves our attention and especially so in the context of the present tense. Why focus on present tense? Statistically speaking, some research findings reveal that verb forms used in the present tense occur more frequently than those used in other tenses, hence this higher frequency of occurrence of the former justifies the need to focus more on the present tense.

Review of Related Studies

Most grammar books state the rules on this topic and give examples of sentences to show the relationship between subject and verb, but they do not elaborate on the pedagogical aspects of teaching the topic. Below are some views from some writers on the teaching of this topic.

Adrian Holden and Jagjeet Singh (2001) have identified this topic as a common problem area among students. Examples of problem are pointed out and explanations are given for each sentence. For example, Susila, together with her younger sister, often (visit, visits) the book stores. The explanation: a singular subject with an attached phrase is still a singular subject.

Wren and Martin (2001) says that the verb, like the personal pronouns, has three persons - the first, the second and the third, and they then continue with a very lengthy explanation on what is meant by first, second and third person. This method of learning the rules about the first, second, third person before deciding on the verb form is tedious and confusing.

Davidson (2003) states that sometimes it is not the immediate subject, or what seems to be the subject, of the verb that determines whether the verb must be singular or plural, but some other word or phrase in the sentence. For example: The boy who was playing outside is my son. ('The boy' is the antecedent of the relative pronoun 'who'). He also points out some differences between formal and informal English. In informal English, there's and here's may be followed by a plural noun or phrase. For example: Here's three reasons why you shouldn't smoke (Informal); Here are the answers to your questions (Formal).

Azar and Hagen (2006) deal with this topic by stating the rule in each case of subject-verb agreement, starting with the be verbs {am, is, are), then have, has and do, does in other chapters. These grammar words are taught at the basic level. There is no mention of subject-verb agreement in depth.

Alter (1996) provides many examples of subject-verb agreement, but the substitution method of teaching is missing. It is probably assumed that students know how to substitute the nouns with pronouns themselves. In reality, they do not know how.

The mentioned grammar books lack the pedagogical aspects of teaching the topic in depth. As such, students may understand the rules at surface level. They can use I go and he goes corectly. But once the subject is changed to AH's uncle, they get stuck with the problem of subject-verb agreement. The approach recommended in this paper is comprehensive. The method of teaching is unconventional, and the technique of finding the subject is the substitution method. The rules are consistent and hence the methods appeal to students. Moreover, students can always look at their hands for reference.

The Comprehensive Approach

The suggested method of teaching subject-verb agreement in class is explained as follows.

1. Basically there are four clusters of subject-verb agreement to deal with in English. They are classified as cluster 1, cluster 2, cluster 3 and cluster 4. Present the four clusters of subject-verb agreement on the board as illustrated below. …

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