In a collection of funny sentences every English learner should read, the University of Minnesota’s Center For Writing provides the following advice:
“Verbs has to agree with their subjects.”
I expect that everyone reading this can see the subject/verb agreement error (verbs have…). After all, this is one of the first things most people learn in English class.
Of course, this is basic English grammar, but it is still one of the most common errors in IELTS tests. In fact, (as we will see) it is commonly forgotten even in the first sentence of Task One essays.
IELTS examiners look at grammar mistakes as either basic (i.e. simple errors that should not be made) or complex (errors in grammar that is considered difficult, and therefore more acceptable). Complex errors have little effect on a grammar score until the higher bands (7-9). Basic errors, however, have a limiting effect; if you make too many basic errors you will be limited to a low score for grammar, even if you use some really advanced grammar as well. In short, make too many agreement errors and you will not get a good grammar score.
This lesson provides examples of common errors. Think carefully about whether you are likely to make any of these mistakes yourself, and if so, use grammar resources to study and practice until you are certain you will not make these mistakes in your IELTS test.
Error 1: Agreeing with the number of diagrams
A Task One essay will usually start by naming the diagram type or types, and using a verb such as describes, shows or illustrates. It is important to make sure the verb matches the number of diagrams described.
The diagram illustrate ✘
The diagram illustrates ✔︎
The line graph give information about ✘
The line graph gives information about ✔︎
The pie charts details how many ✘
The pie charts detail how many ✔︎
The pie chart and line graph shows ✘
The pie chart and line graph show ✔︎
Making a basic error in the first few words is really not a good way to start an IELTS essay!
Error 2: Not agreeing with the quantifier
It is also common for test-takers to make agreement errors when using a quantifier. In the following sentence, the quantifier number is used. Should the following verb agree with a singular or plural noun?
The number of cars has/have grown…
The correct verb conjugation (form of a verb) in this example is has, but the reason why may be unclear.
In English, when a quantifier is preceded by the it is considered singular and the following verb should agree with the quantifier, not the noun modified by the quantifier. For example:
The number of women CEOs was
The percentage of cats has risen…
The proportion of immigrants exceeds…
The area of the three countries combined is…
To understand why this is correct, we must first understand that nouns usually exist in a noun phrase. A noun phrase is a combination of words that modify (change) a subject or object in a sentence. All of these examples below are noun phrases. The modifying words are in bold.
1. The cats
2. The huge angry cats
3. The percentage of cats
When we add a verb such as have to these noun phrases it must agree with a noun from the noun phrase. For 1 and 2 this is easy as the only noun is cats but in example 3, there are two nouns percentage and cats.
In this case, we must identify the head noun, which is the noun the verb actually connects to. Often this is not the noun closest to the verb. The head noun can normally be identified by testing each noun with the main verb.
Original sentence: The percentage of cats has/have risen sharply.
Test One: The percentage has risen sharply.
Test Two: The cats have risen sharply.
Hopefully it now becomes clear that test one is correct, whereas test two is suggesting the cats themselves have actually moved upwards somehow. Did they jump, or perhaps even fly?
So, remember that quantifiers preceded by the are singular. The writer is referring to a specific number, percentage, amount etc.
However, it is also possible to refer to a general quantity when the writer does not know or is not concerned by the specific quantity. For example:
A number of people have moved into the neighbourhood.
An increasing percentage of women do not want to have children.
As these examples show, when the quantifier is preceded by a or an the modified noun must be general, too. General nouns are plural (e.g. cats are cute animals), so the verb will agree with a plural noun phrase. However, in IELTS task one, it is unusual to use this form.
In the following sentences, the nouns phrases preceding the verb have been underlined and the nouns highlighted in bold. Read each sentence and identify the head noun.
1. Anybody who buys two coffees from our restaurants is allowed to use the outside seats.
2. The percentage of young Asian males who leave home before age 20 is relatively low.
3. The three graphs about youth unemployment show different results.
4. The data set for survival rates shows a downward trend throughout the period.
5. The diagram demonstrates the amount of food an average Chinese household eats in one week.
6. Reading while sitting in cafés relaxes me.
Choose the correct form of the main verbs from the following sentences.
1. The bar graph demonstrate/demonstrates the number of bananas sold in the UK in 1998.
2. The amount of water the UK is/are expected to use in 2030 is/are double the amount this year.
3. The percentage of cancer patients who report/reports problems after surgery have/has fallen dramatically.
4. According to the graph, buying clothes and food is/are the most common way to relax.
5. The growth in the population rate of South American counties is/are significantly higher than North American countries.
6. The number of trees which is/are planted every year has/have risen every year since 2012.
7. The graphs show/shows that only one of the fifty respondents have/has ever visited a fortune teller.
|1.1||Anybody who buys two coffees from our restaurants is allowed to use the outside seats.(The person is allowed to use the outside seat)|
|1.2||The percentage of young Asian males who leave home before age 20 is relatively low.(The percentage is low (not the males))|
|1.3||The three graphs about youth unemployment show different results.(The graphs show different results)|
|1.4||The data set for survival rates shows a downward trend throughout the period.(The data set shows a trend)|
|1.5||The diagram demonstrates the amount of food an average Chinese household eats in one week.(The diagram demonstrates / the household eats the food)|
|1.6||Reading while sitting in cafés relaxes me. (Reading relaxes the person)|
|2.1||The bar graph demonstrates the number of bananas sold in the UK in 1998.|
|2.2||The amount of water the UK is expected to use in 2030 is double the amount this year.|
|2.3||The percentage of cancer patients who report problems after surgery has fallen dramatically.|
|2.4||According to the graph, buying clothes and food is the most common way to relax.|
|2.5||The growth in the population rate of South American counties is significantly higher than North American countries.|
|2.6||The number of trees which are planted every year has risen every year since 2012.|
|2.7||The graphs show that only one of the fifty respondents has ever visited a fortune teller|