This is the story of Samson, a very independent boy. Samson does everything by himself. Even when he really needs the help, he insists on doing everything on his own.
“I’ll do it by myself!” he declares, with bright eyes and little fists.
Samson loves to climb. He climbs trees, rocks, the doghouse in his yard, jungle gyms, monkey bars, everything. Even when the things he climbs are high, intimidating, and even scary, he climbs everything on his own.
“I’ll do it by myself!” he declares, hoisting himself skyward, swinging upside-down by his knees, reaching for the next branch.
One day, Samson decides to make his biggest climb yet: The Mountain. It is a very long climb, and Samson is still a very small boy.
“You might need some help on this one,” says Samson’s big brother Josiah.
“What if we come along just in case you need us?” says their papa.
“Rouf-rouf-rahoo,” says Woody, their dog.
(Ruff translation: You don’t have to do this alone!)
But Samson shakes his head. “I’ll do it by myself!”
One sunny summer morning, Samson fills his backpack with the things he’ll need for his climb: plenty of snacks, a canteen full of water, a flashlight, and a raincoat just in case.
“Are you sure you don’t want any help?” asks Josiah.
“Or any company?” asks their papa.
Samson shakes his head. “I’ll do it by myself. I’ll climb the Mountain all by myself!”
“Raou-ruh-raou,” says Woody.
(Ruff translation: Good luck!)
Samson carries his backpack to the base of the Mountain. He looks up at the summit. “I’ll do it by myself,” he whispers.
Not too far behind Samson sneak Papa, Josiah, and Woody. They know that Samson wants to do it by himself, and they don’t want to stop him. They just want to stay quietly close by, just in case he needs them.
Samson starts his climb. He hikes all the way to a small stream and stops for a snack.
When Samson opens the backpack, though, the bag of snacks spills out into the stream. “Oh, no!”
The package of snacks floats down the stream, where Josiah fishes it out. “I’ll hold onto this in case Samson needs it,” he says.
Upstream, Samson shakes off the loss. “I’ll keep going,” he says. “I can still do it by myself.”
Samson, followed by Josiah, continues up the mountain.
The sun beats through the trees of the mountainside as the morning passes. A little farther up, Samson stops to rest on a rock. He pulls out his canteen of water for a drink.
No sooner does Samson take a few swigs from his canteen than a snake slithers out from under the rock and hisses at him. Samson yelps and drops the canteen, which rolls away down the hill. “Oh, no!”
Amid the trees below, Samson’s papa catches the rolling canteen. “I’ll hold onto this in case he needs it,” he says.
Samson shimmies away from the rock, watching for snakes. Even though his voice wobbles a little, he says, “I can still do it by myself.”
Samson, along with Josiah and their papa, persists in his hike up the mountain.
As the day slides into afternoon, heavy clouds roll along in the sky. Samson grits his teeth and opens his backpack again. “I’m not that far from the top now. I’ll just put on my raincoat—”
But a sudden gust of stormy wind pulls the raincoat right out of his hands. “Oh, no!”
The raincoat ripples along down the trail. Woody leaps and carefully catches a sleeve in his teeth. “Ruh-roh,” he growls around the fabric.
(Ruff translation: Well, this is quite an unfortunate setback! I’ll bring this coat along in case he needs it.)
Samson shivers as a raindrop pelts his nose, but then he scowls. “I’m going to do it by myself!”
Samson, as well as his papa, his brother, and Woody, keeps going.
A rainstorm wets Samson as he climbs, but he doesn’t stop. The rain passes, and the sun is just beginning to sink in the sky when he finally steps onto the summit of the mountain.
Samson looks out over the sunset, squares his shoulders, takes a deep breath, and smiles. “I did it! I did it by myself!”
He looks around.
There’s nobody to celebrate with. Nobody is there to keep him company. Nobody is there to join him for the hike home.
Samson rifles through his backpack. All that’s left is his flashlight to guide him back down the wet, snaky mountain path in the darkness. His legs and arms are very, very tired. His stomach grumbles. His throat is scratchy. His shoulders are still quite damp.
And he is lonely at the top.
Samson’s chin trembles. He turns on the flashlight and blinks it through the twilit trees. “I wish—I really wish I hadn’t done this by myself.”
Then, Samson’s family emerges onto the summit. “You didn’t,” Papa says, handing him the canteen.
Josiah holds out the package of snacks. “Here, I saved these for you.”
Woody steps forward, wagging his tail, and drops the raincoat at Samson’s feet.
Samson looks at his papa, brother, and dog as they gather around him. “Thank you.”
Together, they eat the snacks and drink the water. Samson bundles up in his raincoat to stay warm for the climb down. Then, Papa hoists Samson onto his back and takes Josiah’s hand. Woody sidles close beside them.
Then, Samson and his family hike down the mountain together, grateful for each other and thankful that none of them had to climb the mountain alone.
Thanks for reading this story of Samson the Independent! I thought I could illustrate the impact of singular-versus-plural verbs through a character who insists on being separate and independent at every turn. Subjects and verbs must agree in sentences, meaning that they must both be singular (“he says”) or plural (“we say”).
You might have also noticed that this whole story is told in present tense (says/climbs/is, rather than past-tense said/climbed/was). I chose to tell the story this way because singular and plural verbs often look the same in past tense—“he climbed” versus “they all climbed,” for example—but they are clearly different in present tense: “he climbs” versus “they all climb.”
That brings us to today’s topic…
In tricky sentence structures, how can you tell whether to use singular or plural verbs?
A singular noun is a person, place, thing, or concept. It can also be a mass of something uncountable, like “coffee” or “clothing.” A singular subject—the active noun in a sentence—requires a singular verb. Examples:
- Samson does everything by himself.
- The sun beats through the trees of the mountainside as the morning passes.
- Woody leaps and carefully catches a sleeve in his teeth.
A plural noun contains more than one person, place, thing, or concept. It is often countable, like “cups of coffee” or “shirts.” A plural subject requires a plural verb. Examples:
- They know that Samson wants to do it by himself.
- Heavy clouds roll along in the sky.
Now, there are some trickier structures that tend to throw people off. First, the subject typically comes before the verb in a sentence, but you can also invert a sentence so that the verb comes first. It still has to match the subject, though. Examples:
- Not too far behind Samson sneak Papa, Josiah, and Woody.
- “Are you sure you don’t want any help?” asks
- No sooner does Samson take a few swigs from his canteen than a snake slithers out.
And here’s the really tricky thing: The subject of a sentence also might not be the closest noun to the verb. If you’re unsure, find the verb and ask, “Who or what is doing this action or holding this state?” Example:
- The package of snacks floats down the stream, where Josiah fishes it out.
Even though “snacks” is closest to the verb, “package” is the subject, and “of snacks” just describes the package. My rule-of-thumb to find the subject is that if a noun follows a preposition (like “of snacks”), it’s almost never the subject. It’s describing the subject.
Furthermore, and is the only conjunction that forms a compound (plural) subject and requires a plural verb. Other conjunctions and phrases—or, nor, along with, as well as, joined by—remain singular. Whatever noun comes first is the subject, and anything that follows only modifies it. Examples:
- Samson, followed by Josiah, continues up the mountain.
- Samson, along with Josiah and their papa, persists in his hike up the mountain.
- Then, Samson and his family hike down the mountain together.
Only the “and” in this last sentence creates a plural.
I hope that this story helps you remember a few common rules for singular and plural subjects and verbs. Ask yourself if your subject is independent like Samson or joined by “and” to something else.
Thanks for reading! Check back on March 26 for our next Grammar Adventure.
In the meantime, happy reading and happy writing!