Legal Writing Tips

The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.

Words that intervene between subject and verb do not affect the number of the verb.

The bittersweet flavor of      The bittersweet flavor of        
youth—its trials, its joys,     youth—its trials, its joys,
its adventures,                        its adventures,
its challenges—                      its challenges
are not soon forgotten.         —is not soon forgotten.

A common blunder is the use of a singular verb form in a relative clause following “one of . . .” or a similar expression when the relative is the subject.

One of the ablest                    One of the ablest
scientists who has                scientists who have
attacked this problem.         attacked this problem.
One of those people              One of those people
who is never ready               who are never ready
on time.                                    on time.

Use a singular verb form each, either, everyone, everybody, neither, nobody, someone.

Everybody thinks he has a unique sense of humor.

Although  both clocks strike cheerfully, neither keeps good time.

With none, use the singular verb when the word means “no one” or “not one.”

None of us are perfect.     None of us is perfect.

A plural verb is commonly used when none suggests more than one thing or person.

None are so fallible as those who are sure they’re right.

A  compound subject formed  of two or more nouns joined by and almost always requires a plural verb.

The walrus and the carpenter were walking close at hand.

But certain compounds, often clichés, are so inseparable they are considered a unit and so take a singular verb, as do compound subjects qualified by each or every.

The long and the short of it is . . .
Bread and butter was all she served.

Give and take is essential to a happy household.
Every window, picture, and mirror was smashed.

A singular subject remains singular even if other nouns are connected to it by with, as well as, in addition to, except, together with, and no less than.

His speech as well as his manner is objectionable.

A linking verb agrees with the number of its subject.

What is wanted is a few more pairs of hands.

The trouble with truth is its many varieties.

Some nouns that appear to be plural are usually construed as singular and given a singular verb.

Politics is an art, not a science.

The Republican Headquarters is on this side of the tracks.


The general’s quarters are across the river.

In these cases the writer must simply learn the idioms. The contents of a book is singular. The contents of a jar may be either singular or plural, depending on what’s in the jar—- jam or marbles.

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