writers know how to make their subjects and verbs agree in
person and number, or at least to recognize when they do
not. Often, however, agreement is not as easy to confirm at
first glance if a sentence’s subject and verb have been
inverted. Inversion simply means that the subject and
verb are reversed, so that the verb actually comes before
the subject in the sentence. But while this order may seem
trickier, there is only one quick trick a writer needs to
test the agreement.
In all the sentences below, the subjects follow their
corresponding verbs. Often, the entire predicate (including
the verb) will come before the subject. When that happens,
the number and person of the subject remain unknown for some
time—until after the verb, of course.
Simply identify the
subject (underlined) and the
verb (italicized) in each sentence.
reconstruct the sentences so that the subjects do come
before the verbs, just as they would in most speaking or
writing situations, always making sure the subject and verb
agree in number and person.
Finally, identify whether the
subject is singular or plural, which will tell you whether
the sentence needs a singular or plural verb.
Ex. There, walking toward him,
were his biological
mother and father.
Inverted Ex. His biological mother and father
there walking toward him. The subject is compound, and
therefore plural, so the verb is, too.
Ex. Somewhere in this box
is a copy of my most
Inverted Ex. A copy of my most recent passport
somewhere in this box. Singular subject, singular verb.
Ex. Sure enough, as I glanced to my right, off went
Greg with my pen clutched in his hand.
Inverted Ex. Sure enough, as I glanced to my right,
Greg went off with my pen clutched in his hand. Singular
subject, singular verb.
The reversal of the subject and verb is simple when it
comes to agreement. And writers use inversion for a number
of reasons. Next week's issue of Grammatically Correct
will discuss the stylistic effects of inversion in more