General Writing and Grammar Help/Subject Verb Agreement


I am having difficulty with subject verb agreement in the following sentence (specifically, if "echoes" is proper):

"The sound of footsteps echoes off solid pavement."

I am not sure if this should read as: "The sounds of footsteps echo off solid pavement", "The sound of footsteps echo off solid pavement", or "The sounds of footsteps echoes off solid pavement".

Please help! The more I read over my possibilities, the more confused I become!

Thank you.

The easy part first:

Incorrect:  The sounds of footsteps echoes off solid pavement.  

What I like to call the skeleton of the sentence is:
Sounds (subject) echoes (verb)

Your ear has alerted you that this can't be right (subject is plural and verb is singular!).


A lot of people have the problem you have identified with your sentence choices here.  

The thorn is =of footsteps=.  

On first glance, =footsteps= appears to be the subject of the sentence.  It falls just before the verb, too!

Unfortunately, =footsteps= is NOT the subject.  

It is part of a prepositional phrase.  =Of= is the preposition, and =footsteps= is the object of the preposition.  The object of a preposition does not control the verb, so the subject has to be some other word.

If we remove =of footsteps=, it's easier to see what the subject actually is:

The sound echoes off solid pavement.
Sound echoes.

Now it's obvious what the subject is and what form of the verb is needed.


So many people trip on this.   You're not alone!


Another example:

A group of us are going to the movies. [incorrect]

=Us= is the object of the preposition =of=.  =Us= is NOT the subject!  =Group= is the subject!  That's why the verb must be =is=:

A group of us is going to the movies.  [correct!]


In the future, if you are confused, remove the prepositional phrase to reveal the true subject.

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Martha Beth Lewis


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