28 October 2010

Subject-Verb Agreement

In my previous posting, I discussed non-standard grammar usage in the writing of my students. In particular, I raised the issue of whether I should be correcting it or not. One thing I did not mention but could have is non-standard subject-verb agreement, something that is rather common in their writing.

I was reminded of this as I was reading a paper by Barbara Seidlhofer and Henry Widdowson in a recent book edited by Kumiko Murata and Jennifer Jenkins (Global Englishes in Asian Contexts: Current and Future Debates, Continuum, 2009).

Here is an abstract from page 32 of their paper:
the use of these phrases also serve to establish rapport ...
Note the use of serve which fails to agree with use, the singular noun that is the head of the subject. Traditionally, we would expect serves rather than serve.

I have a number of questions about this:
  • Did Seidlhofer and Widdowson notice this but decide to keep it anyway?
  • Did the editors notice it and decide to leave it, in keeping with a policy of being tolerant about variation in English?
  • Is this becoming the norm in English now, so maybe proximity is the deciding factor in the inflection of the verb (i.e. the plural phrases overrides the singular use because it is closer to the verb)?
  • Is this something I should allow my students to do?
I tend to indicate subject-verb agreement mismatches as an error in the writing of my students. But maybe this is not appropriate.