Monday, June 15, 2009

Was or Were?

None was or were?


WHICH is the correct answer for each of the sentences below? Can you explain why?

a) Don’t drink the water unless it (is boiled/was boiled).

b) None of the men (was/were) there.

c) When the firemen arrived at the scene, the shophouses (were/had been) burned to the ground.

d) The train to Kuala Lumpur (arrives/is arriving) in half an hour.

e) Nothing but rain and clouds (is/are) in the sky.

f) He washes his hands prior to (serve/serving) his customers.

– Seng Kong

a) The correct sentence is “Don’t drink the water unless it is boiled.”

Here, “boiled”, the past participle form of “boil”, is actually an adjective and indicates the state of the water. So it is used with the simple present tense verb “is”, and the sentence has a similar form to “Don’t drink the water unless it is clean.”, for example.

You can also use “boiled” before the noun, as in “boiled water”.

If you want to use “boiled” as part of a verb in your sentence, you could use the present perfect passive tense, as in “Don’t drink the water unless it has been boiled.”, which doesn’t indicate when it was boiled.

You can also use the past tense passive “was boiled”, but you’ll have to indicate a time, e.g. “Don’t drink the water unless it was boiled less than 24 hours ago.”

b) In British English, you use a singular verb in “None of the men was there.” in a formal style, and a plural verb “None of the men were there.” in an informal style.

If “none of” is followed by an uncountable noun, a singular verb is used, e.g. in “None of the fear was left in her.”

c) The correct sentence is “When the firemen arrived at the scene, the shophouses had been burned to the ground.”

The past perfect tense “had been burned” (here it is in the passive form) is used to indicate a time before another past time, i.e “ When the firemen arrived ...” The simple past tense “were burned” (also in the passive form here) is not used.

“Burned”, by the way, is the American English spelling for the British English “burnt”.

d) Both are correct. You can use the simple present tense or the present continuous tense to talk about a future event that is part of a timetable.

e) The correct sentence is: “Nothing but rain and clouds are in the sky.”

If the subject is a phrase consisting of “nothing but” followed by a noun, the verb agrees with the noun. If “nothing but” is followed by two nouns, whether of the same kind or not, a plural verb is used. In other words, “nothing but” noun phrases follow the usual rules of subject-verb agreement.

In your sentence, there are two nouns after “nothing but” — “rain”, an uncountable noun, and “clouds”, a plural noun. The verb is therefore plural. But let me give examples of some of the possible variations in subject-verb agreement:

i. Nothing but rain is in the sky. (“rain” is an uncountable noun)

ii. Nothing but an aeroplane is seen flying under the clear blue sky. (“aeroplane” is a singular noun)

iii. Nothing but rain and lightning are seen during the storm. (“rain” and “lightning” are both uncountable nouns)

iv. Nothing but an aeroplane and a large bird are seen flying under the clear blue sky. (“aeroplane” and “bird” are both singular countable nouns)

v. Nothing but clouds are seen in the sky. (“clouds” is a plural noun)

f) “He washes his hands prior to serving his customers.” is the correct sentence.

What comes after “prior to” (which means “before”) is a noun or a gerund (an –ing verb acting like a noun) and “serving” here is a gerund.

You can replace the gerund with a noun, in a sentence like “He washes his hands prior to a meal.”


No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin