While I was reading the article on sentence level errors, I was immediately drawn in by the thought that there is a difference between written and spoken language. This difference comes from the fact that when we talk, our words are spontaneous. We don’t have time to plan out what we say before we say it (in a typical conversation, anyway). I started to think about how often people think quicker than they can speak and end up mixing up words and ideas. Since we are able to analyze and rewrite written work, I think these mix-ups occur less often when writing. I do believe, though, that some bad habits are formed by the way we speak and I think they come through in writing.

The thing I have been trying to pay close attention to, both in and out of the writing center, is subject verb agreement.  Outside of school I waitress. I often find myself speaking very quickly to customers when the restaurant is busy. It is then that I catch myself saying things like “How is you appetizers”. I know that is incorrect, but my mind is going in a thousand directions and that is the sentence that comes out of my mouth. It is frustrating because I often wonder if anyone caught onto it -or if anyone even realized that is was incorrect.

I think (or at least hope) that things like this happen to most people when they are speaking quickly. But, this isn’t an error that should appear in writing because the opportunity to edit and correct your work is available. Since people often write the way they speak, I think a bad habit could easily be picked up with incorrect pairing of subjects and verbs.

While in the writing center, I have seen this issue come about with a lot of ESL students.  In a forty-five minute session, I don’t necessarily have time to explain ALL the rules for subject verb agreement.  From what I can come up with, I think most of the confusion comes from extra words in sentences. In order to make it less confusing, I use the strategy of isolating the subject and verb in the sentence.

When students read their papers out loud, they won’t necessarily catch these kinds of mistakes because they are used to talking that way. By pulling out only the subject and the verb in each sentence it is easier to see and hear that the wording is incorrect.

Student reading paper out loud:  The teacher, who is tall with brown hair and glasses, walk quickly down the hallway and into her office.

Tutor:  Ok, let’s look at this sentence. Do you see anything wrong with it?

Student:  No. I think it sounded fine when I read it.

Tutor: I would like you to highlight the subject of the sentence and then the verb. Then write them down next to each other.


Tutor: Since we have a subject and a verb present, we technically have a sentence. Would you like to read that out loud?

Student: Sure…teacher walk. … That does not sound right… The teacher walks. I think it should be walks not walk.

Tutor: That’s right. If you ever have problems with longer sentences, pull out the subject and verb separately and make sure they agree with each other.

I think this strategy would be especially useful for compound subjects and also sentences with a lot of prepositional phrases. Sometimes students will make the verb agree with the wrong noun because it is physically closer to the verb rather than being the actual subject.  When you pull out ONLY the subject and verb, the student will be able to see their direct relationship.