Sunday, March 21, 2010

Verb agreement

There Was a Crooked Man

There was a crooked man,
And he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence
Upon a crooked stile;

He bought a crooked cat,
Which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together
In a crooked little house.

One problem confronting writers is verb agreement. First, verbs should agree with the subject in number.
Sue studies hard.
The singular subject "Sue" agrees with the verb "studies".
Sue and Bob (both) study hard.
The plural subject "Sue and Bob" requires a change in verb form to "study".
Everyone studies hard.
Some subjects which contain more than one individual are singular because they constitute a group. "Everyone" is a group taking a singular verb. There are other words which seem plural but aren't and require a singular verb form. "Family", "all the world" are two examples which require a singular verb form.
My family is big. All the world loves an Irishman on St. Patrick's Day. Is anyone going to go? The staff of the school loves teaching.

A second problem with verb agreement is consistency in the paragraph and the paper as a whole. When we write, we use tenses that reflect when the action is taking place. Present tense for now, past tense for the past, and future for events that have yet to take place. There are also other verb forms such as the passive voice and active voice. Some mixing of tenses and voice are necessary both to reflect the time events take place, but also to make the writing more interesting. But, beware that jumping around too much is confusing to readers.

The nursery rhyme above contains only verbs in the past tense. Suppose we mix it up a little.

There Is a Crooked Man

There Is a crooked man,
And he walked a crooked mile,
He will find a crooked sixpence
Upon a crooked stile;

He had bought a crooked cat,
Which can catch a crooked mouse,
And they all live together
In a crooked little house.

Mixing up the verb forms brings the rhyme to a crashing halt. So, examine your paragraphs and stay consistent in the use of verb forms. But be careful. Sometimes the writer has to be a detective and match subject with verb.
A long list of assignments, chores, tasks and duties intimidates me.

The subject is "list" and not the several items.

Good luck. Your readers will appreciate it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Springtime in Texas

A Shakespearean sonnet is made up of 14 lines, each line with ten syllables, and written in iambic pentameter. Iambic refers to a pattern of an unemphasized syllable follow by an emphasized syllable. The word "delight" is an example since the stress is on the syllable "-light".

The rhyme scheme in a Shakespearean sonnet is a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g. The last two lines are a rhyming couplet.

Sonnet 98
by William Shakespeare (1609)

From you have I been absent in the spring
When proud-pied April, dress’d in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh’d and leap’d with him.

Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:

Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.

Yet seem’d it winter still, and you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.

Bluebonnet image by Larry Urqhart

See more Texas wildflowers