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© Ugur Akinci
It’s a fundamental rule of English grammar: your VERB must agree with the SUBJECT of your sentence.
A SINGULAR subject must take a SINGULAR verb.
A PLURAL subject must take a PLURAL verb.
Why am I addressing this very basic rule?
The reason is, the violation of this rule can potentially have disastrous consequences in technical or procedural writing.
First the ILLUSTRATION of the RULE:
“The garage [Main SUBJECT] where he kept [auxiliary VERB] his antique cars is [Main VERB] very old.”
(Garage … is)
And here’s the VIOLATION of the rule:
“The garage where he kept his antique cars are very old.”
(Garage … are?)
MS Word actually flags such violations by underlining the offending verb with a squiggly green line if the “Check grammar with spelling” check box is selected in the Options configuration window (Tools > Options).
So why can that kind of violation have bad consequences in technical documentation or plain writing?
Here is why…
Imagine you’re writing the Security Procedures Handbook for a secure military facility.
Your main goal as a technical writer is to make sure there are no mistakes in your document that would allow the bad guys infiltrate the facility or inadvertently cause one of the good guys get injured.
Imagine you write a procedure like the following:
“When the Red Light starts to flash, make sure one the following gates are closed and locked within 2 seconds:
- Gate A at the North Sector
- Gate B at the South Sector
- Gate C at the East Sector”
Of course the correct sentence should read “…one the following gates IS closed and locked…”
If your reader is reading the sentence carefully, it’s clear that only ONE of the gates should be closed.
But if the reader is concentrating on the verb ARE, he or she can easily think that ALL the gates should be closed, especially in a panic situation.
If the “Red Light” is a fire alert, for example, you may cause people get trapped and burned if the operator shuts down all the gates by mistake.
You can never guess in advance the kind of “unintended consequences” such a seemingly-simple grammatical error might cause.
So watch your grammar and write clean procedures that have no room for any misunderstandings.
To your precise success!