*Real-World Subject-Verb Agreement Problems

A while back I came across a website about real estate foreclosure. The site and its main article were trying really hard to convince readers of the company's professionalism and expertise (it was selling an advanced course for prospective real estate investors). The layout wasn’t too sharp, but I wasn’t going to hold that against them. And the site seemed to have a good idea of how to organize information. So in some regards they were living up to the standards of well-polished professional sites.

Then I saw this sentence: “Bank owned properties commonly called REO or real estate owned is one of the most common foreclosure investment practices today.”

I’ve read a lot business writing in my day. In fact, I used to be a proofreader/editor for Business Wire. I was always surprised at how seriously corporations approach the writing and editing of their annual reports and other documents. Reputable companies, I could see, usually have professional editors ensuring the quality and consistency of their copy.

This sentence was a sign -- one of many, actually -- that the website wasn’t in the same league.

In grammar, there’s a lot of talk about subject-verb agreement. It goes like this: your verb should agree in number and person with your subject. It’s “I am,” not “I are.” It’s “he walks,” not “he walk.” But really, who didn’t know that already? It’s so easy to make verbs agree with their subjects that it can make you wonder whether all the talk about agreement problems is a waste.

Then you come across a sentence like this and see that, yes, subject-verb disagreement isn’t just a remote possibility. It’s a real-world problem -- one that can occur quite easily anytime a sentence gets longer than “I am.”

In “Bank owned properties commonly called REO or real estate owned is one of the most common foreclosure investment practices today,” the main verb is “is.” The subject it’s supposed to agree with is a little hard to pin down because it’s surrounded by so much other stuff. But when you zero in on it, you see that the real subject is “properties,” which when paired with your verb gives you “properties is.” Of course, it should be “properties are” in which a plural verb matches a plural subject. But the writer stumbled and there was no editor on the job to catch him.

Of course, there are other problems with this sentence. I’m especially turned off by how the phrase “or real estate owned” isn’t set off by commas. And I don’t like the logic of calling properties a practice. But the subject-verb disagreement is what really gives away that this company isn’t as polished as they’d like people to believe.

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One Response to “*Real-World Subject-Verb Agreement Problems”

  1. FWIW, there's nothing wrong with "He walked."