In the last little while, as I’ve been writing and editing, I’ve run into a similar problem a few times. By becoming aware of it, I had the uncanny experience of having it pop up everywhere, so I decided to write a short post clearing up the issue.
It’s technically an error of subject and verb agreement, but it’s a little more complicated because of the circumstances is shows up in.
Here are two examples:
“The university, with its professors, students, and staff members, are making an effort to choose active commuting this month.”
“The RCMP use a different Use of Force model.”
In both of these cases, we have two subjects that suggest a collective, a group of people, but are in fact singulars. They’re speaking of a monolithic corporate entity, one that treats itself as an individual body.
The first example is especially tricky because you have three plurals following the subject, so it’s easy to get confused and make this error.
By correctly identifying the subject, these sentences should read:
“The university, with its professors, students, and staff members, is making an effort to choose active commuting this month.”
“The RCMP uses a different Use of Force model.”
So, remember that verbs need to modify and act in accordance with their subjects. A difficult sentence construction can make the subject harder to see, but if you pause and ask “who or what is actually doing this thing?”, you should be able to figure it out.