OET Writing Tips Subject Verb Agreement part 2
OET Grammar, OET For Doctors, OET, OET Writing, OET For Nurses

In the previous article, we saw how subject-agreement is incredibly important for candidates who are preparing to sit the OET writing sub-test. This is because subject-verb disagreement stands out easily to native speakers, including, of course, those OET examiners who will be reading your paper to give you the final OET grade. As such, we learned about how to ensure that the subject and verb of a sentence are both in the correct form.

In this article, we will look at a slightly more advanced version of subject-verb agreement, which may pose a challenge for the OET writer. This involves multiple subjects matching with verbs.

What do you mean by multiple subjects?

A sentence doesn’t always just have one single subject. In fact, it could have two or more subjects matching with its verb. Naturally, when considering the issue of subject-verb agreement, this makes the challenge more difficult. As such, mastering this skill with multiple subjects (also known as compound subjects) is one of the best OET writing tips.

Let’s take an easy example to begin with.

    • The doctor and nurse consulted with the patient.

Here, our sentence contained one verb (consulted) and two subjects (doctor, nurse). The verb is in the past simple tense, which, as we read in the previous article, is not affected by subject-verb disagreement (at least in its affirmative form). However, a small change could cause a large mistake, as we shall see in the next example:

    • The doctor and nurse has consulted with the patient.

OET Writing
Now in this sentence we have shifted the tense to the present perfect, indicating essentially the same thing as the past simple, but implying that the doctor and nurse could consult the patient again. It is an important distinction, and yet a basic error has ruined the sentence. The auxiliary verb (has), which changed the tense from past simple to present perfect, has been put into the wrong form. Of course, it should be written like this:

    • The doctor and nurse have consulted with the patient.

Why is this correct while the previous one was wrong?

When we have multiple subjects and they are linked by the word “and”, they are treated as a plural subject, and thus the verb should be in the plural form.

On the other hand, when these multiple subjects are linked by the word “or” or “nor” then they take the required verb form of the subject that is closest to the verb. We can see how this works in the following example:

    • Neither the medication nor the physiotherapy have seemed to positively impact the patient’s condition.
    • Neither the medication nor the physiotherapy has seemed to positively impact the patient’s condition.

In this case, the two subjects (medication, physiotherapy) are both in the singular form and so they require an auxiliary verb in the singular form (has).


If we changed this slightly to make the second of the two subjects a plural noun, then the verb would have to change into its plural form, too:

• Neither the physiotherapy nor the medications have seemed to positively impact the patient’s condition.

In this case, the word “medications” is in a plural form and so the verb will agree with it, taking a plural form (have).


Using subject-verb agreement in the OET test

In the OET writing sub-test, subject-verb agreement will help boost your score for the grammar section. Any OET teacher will tell you that mistakes with subjects and verbs, like those indicated above, will cost you dearly as the examiner will easily spot them and penalize them.

It is thus essential that you practice improving your subject-verb agreement skills. More specifically, you should work on doing this within the context of the OET writing sub-test. If you take an OET case and look at it, you can quickly start seeing how your sentences would take shape. There are often times when more than one subject is needed, and this is your challenge to create a sentence that does not fall foul of subject-verb disagreement.

Take, for example, medications. Often these are used in combination in order to treat a patient. In an OET letter, such as a referral letter, you may have to comment upon the success or use of these medications. You will need to remember the rules:
1. If the two (or more) subjects are joined by the word “and” then your verb needs to be in the plural form.
2. If the two (or more) subjects are joined by the word “or” or “nor” then your verb needs to take the form of the nearest subject.

We can see how this works by comparing the use for two drugs:

1. Ibuprofen and paracetamol were suggested for pain management.
2. Ibuprofen or paracetamol was suggested for pain management.
3. Ibuprofen or similar drugs were suggested for pain management.
OET Writing

In the first instance, the two medications are joined by “and” and so the plural form of the verb (were) is correctly used. In the second instance, the two medications are joined by “or” and so the verb takes a singular form according to the nearest subject (paracetamol), which is singular. In the final instance, the nearest subject to the verb is in a plural form, and so it also takes a plural form.

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