Ignore Phrases and Clauses That Separate Subjects from Verbs

Intervening, modifying phrases often add interesting details or important qualifications. However, it's easy to become confused about which word in a sentence is the subject. For example, consider this sentence:

The briefcase (subject, singular) containing all the reports was (verb, singular) in Max's car.

It's easy to see why you might be confused; the noun closest to the verb is plural ("reports"). Nevertheless, the modifying phrase "containing all the reports" should be ignored in making the subject/verb agreement decision. Note that without that phrase, the sentence reads:

The briefcase (subject, singular) was (verb, singular) in Max's car.

Subject/verb agreement doesn't change when you add intervening, modifying phrases, so it makes sense to eliminate them when making the determination.

Supervisors (subject, plural), especially those who are new to the field, have (verb, plural) to attend orientation.

When you eliminate the intervening phrase, you're left with: Supervisors (subject, plural) have (verb, plural) to attend orientation.

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