Subject-verb agreement processes in comprehension

J. L. Nicol*, K. I. Forster, C. Veres

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Citations (Scopus)


Studies of elicited sentence production show that the occasional subject-verb agreement errors that speakers make are more likely to occur when a singular head noun is followed by a plural, as in The producer of the adventure movies have arrived, than when a plural head is followed by a singular (e.g., Bock & Miller, 1991). The significance of this asymmetric pattern of errors depends on whether interference from plurals arises only during the production of sentences, or whether it also occurs in sentence comprehension tasks. Five reading experiments revealed the following: (1) patterns of reading times mirror the production error asymmetry; (2) a phrase which is conceptually plural but grammatically singular (e.g., The label on the bottles) produces no more reading difficulty than one which is conceptually and grammatically singular, a result which mimics Bock and Miller's 1991 production results; (3) interference from an intervening plural depends on a close syntactic link to the head noun phrase (e.g., The owner of the house who charmed the realtors). These results suggest that although the computation of agreement may be accomplished differently in the two systems, interference may arise whenever a structure containing a singular head and intervening plural is computed, whether during production or comprehension.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)569-587
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - May 1997
Externally publishedYes


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