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Freelance writing: How to reach formal agreements

agreementBy Allison VanNest, Grammarly.com

As a freelancer, you probably spend a lot of your time thinking about agreement. In working with clients, for example, you need to agree on a rate of pay, a deadline, a scope of work – and that’s just the beginning.

Writing, itself, is also governed by agreement: Pronoun/antecedent agreement and the more easily recognized subject/verb agreement.

As a general rule of thumb, a verb agrees with its subject in number. Singular subjects take singular verbs:

The girl lives to buy the latest fashions.

This plan was created by the architectural firm.

Plural subjects take plural verbs:

These girls live to buy the last fashions.

These plans were created by the architectural firm.

However, when writing becomes more complex, it may be difficult to know if the subject is singular or plural, like when there’s an intervening phrase. A phrase that is inserted between a singular subject and its verb can be confusing if the phrase contains a plural word.

The performance was excellent.

The performance of the first three actors on stage was excellent. (Note that performance, not actors, is the subject of the sentence.)

 The decision stands.

The decision of the judges stands.  

Compound subjects – words that are connected by “and” or “or” – take a singular or plural verb, depending on whether the words joined are singular or plural, and on what the connecting word is.

Subjects joined by and take a plural verb:

 A car and a truck were in an accident.

Anne and her mother shop regularly.

The bedroom and the living room were blue.

 The exception to this rule occurs when parts of a compound sentence are viewed as a unit or when they refer to the same thing. In these cases, use a singular verb. For example:

Hot dogs and beans is the only lunch choice in the cafeteria.

Her friend and fellow runner was not enthusiastic about the race.

Subjects joined by or or nor take a singular verb. For example:

The girl or the boy is a good choice.

Neither the girl nor the boy is a good choice.

Either the girl or the boy is a good choice.

 The words where and there often cause a specific agreement problem because we often use them incorrectly and informally in speech. For example, we may ask informally and incorrectly, “Where’s your sister and brother?” But we should write, formally and correctly, “Where are your sister and brother?”

The same goes for “there.” We may state, informally, “There’s your sister and brother.” But we should write, formally and correctly, “There are your sister and brother.”

Collective nouns are another common source of confusion.

A collective noun identifies a body of people: Class, committee, team, and group, for example. This type of noun takes a plural verb when the speaker is referring to individual members of the group; it takes a singular verb when the speaker is referring to the group as one unit.

 The group is in agreement on that issue.

The group are split on whether they agree on that issue.

The team were considering several new players.

The team was considered the first in its division.

The family have agreed among themselves to split the money.

The family is the foundation of our society.

Just as you would look up the going rate for a particular freelance project before reaching an agreement with a client, it is important to review subject/verb agreement in your sentences to maintain accurate, readable content. The rules can be confusing, but with a little practice, you will always be able to reach agreement in your writing life!

A self-proclaimed word nerd, Allison VanNest works with Grammarly to help perfect written English. Connect with Allie, the Grammarly team, and more than 650,000 Grammarly Facebook fans at www.facebook.com/grammarly

How do you make sure you’ve got the right agreement between subjects and verbs?

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