2. Keeping tenses consistent
Beginning journalists often mix verb tenses instead of keeping them consistent. One of the easiest remedies to mixing tenses is to remember that newspaper stories almost always are told from the past tense, so the past tense is the anchoring tense from which changes are made.
When two actions are being described and one was completed before the other occurred, a tense change from the past to the past perfect is best for reader comprehension:
Broadcast writers, who tell most of their stories in the present tense, can handle similar situations with a change from the present tense to the present perfect:
In the course of the story, the tense should not make needless shifts from sentence to sentence. The reader is directed by the verb, and if the verb is incorrect, the reader is likely to be confused:
In the above example, did the animal escape after it was shot, or did it escape and then it was shot? If the former, inserting the word then at the start of the second sentence or before the verb would help to make it clear ("Then it escaped . . . or "It then escaped . . ."). If the animal escaped and then was shot, the second sentence should use the past perfect tense ("It had escaped from the pen in which it was kept).
1. Subject/verb agreement
A subject and its verb must agree, or correspond, in two ways: in number (singular, plural) and in person (first, second, third).
Agreement in number:Truth, like privilege and fair comment and criticism, are basic defenses against libel suits.Truth, like privilege and fair comment and criticism, is a basic defense against libel suits.
The subject is Truth (singular), modified by as well as privilege and fair comment and criticism.
Agreement in person:The Order of the Sisters of St. Benedict were suffering from a massive decline in vocations.The Order of the Sisters of St. Benedict was suffering from a massive decline in vocations.The Order (singular) is the simple subject, modified by of the Sisters of St. Benedict.
Problems with agreement often arise in the following cases:
When words come between the subject and the verb:John, as well as several others in the class, were unhappy with the instructor.John, as well as several others in the class, was unhappy with the instructor.The barrage of traffic noises, telephone calls and similar interruption make it difficult to study.The barrage of traffic noises, telephone calls and similar interruption makes it difficult to study.
With collective nouns. A collective noun takes a singular verb when the group is considered a unit and a plural verb when the individuals are thought of as separate:The committee usually vote unanimously.The committee usually votes unanimously.The family live around the corner.The family lives around the corner.The faculty was in the lounge, some standing, some sitting.The faculty were in the lounge, some standing, some sitting.
When compound subjects are formed by or, nor, either . . . or, neither . . . nor, not only . . . but also. The verb agrees with the subject closest to it: