Dealing with distracting predicate nouns.
Avoiding Our Problem
Sentences that contain a singular subject and a plural predicate noun, or a plural subject and a singular predicate noun, often sound awkward. Take these two examples: “Her best feature is her legs,” and “Dirty diapers are the worst part of parenting.” Although these sentences are grammatically correct, they could make readers do a double take.
If you want to avoid the problem, just rewrite your sentence. You could try to make both the subject and the predicate noun singular, or both plural; if that doesn’t work, you’ll have to change the sentence. As far as the legs sentence, you probably shouldn't write, “Her best features are her legs,” or “Her best feature is her leg,” so if you wanted to rewrite it, you would have to change it. Perhaps “She has great legs” would suffice.
As far as the dirty diapers sentence, you could say, “Changing dirty diapers is the worst part of parenting,” among other things.
In summary, sometimes subject-verb agreement gets muddied by other parts of the sentence, but don’t let yourself become distracted. Determine whether the subject is singular or plural, and then match up your verb accordingly.
The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier
This podcast was written by Bonnie Trenga, author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier, who blogs at sentencesleuth.blogspot.com, and I'm Mignon Fogarty, the author of the New York Times bestseller Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.
1. Stilman, A. Grammatically Correct. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2004, p. 211.
2. Lutz, G. and Stevenson, D. Grammar Desk Reference. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2005, p. 94.
3. Garner, B. Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2003, pp. 753-4.