Give These Sentences a CAT Scan

By Rob Kyff

September 30, 2020 3 min read

Cats have nine lives, and this quiz on verb use has nine questions. Choose the correct verbs and you'll avoid a grammatical "cat"astrophe:

1. The cat (use, used) to roam at night.

2. Did the cat (use, used) to roam at night?

3. The cat is carrying what (look, looks) like two mice in its mouth.

4. What (distinguishes, distinguish) the cat (is, are) its white paws.

5. He is one of the cats that (likes, like) to be touched while eating.

6. He is the only one of the cats that (likes, like) to be touched while eating.

7. Either the gray cat or the striped cats (loves, love) fish.

8. One or more of the cats (loves, love) catnip.

9. (There is, There are) going to be a slew of cats here tomorrow.

Answers and Explanations

1. Used. Even though the phrase "use to," when spoken, sounds almost the same as "used to," the past tense verb "used" is correct.

2. Use. "Did use" means the same thing as "used," just as "did meow" means the same as "meowed." You wouldn't write "did meowed," so don't write "did used."

3. Look. Just reverse the sentence: The mice are carrying what looks like a cat in their mouths. Oops, wrong kind of reversal. Two mice look like what the cat is carrying in its mouth.

4. Either, "What distinguishes the cat is its white paws" or, "What distinguish the cat are its white paws." Some experts may caterwaul over either construction, but whatever you do, don't go calico. Both verbs must be plural, or both must be singular.

5. Like. Sentences using "one of the," or "one of those" can create grammatical cataclysms. When in doubt, just reverse the sentence this way: "Of the cats that like to be touched while eating, he is one."

6. Likes. Using "only" stresses the cat's singularity, so use the singular verb form.

7. Love. If one part of a compound subject separated by "or" is singular and one part is plural, the verb agrees with the nearer subject ("striped cats love").

8. Love. Again, in compound subjects separated by "or," the verb agrees with the nearer subject ("more love catnip").

9. Either, "There is" or, "There are." If you're thinking of the cats as a unit, it's, "There is." But if you're thinking of them as individual cats roaming around all over the place, it's, "There are."

Score: 7-9 correct: cat's meow; 5-6 correct: cat's pajamas; 3-4 correct: meow; 0-2 right: ow.

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Photo credit: guvo59 at Pixabay

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