Agreement between the subject and verb is one of the most important concepts in grammar. A subject and verb that are not in agreement can make your writing difficult to understand. In this article, we will discuss subject-verb agreement rules and how it works. We will also provide examples to help you understand the concept better.
The Basics of Subject Verb Agreement
When you compose a sentence, your subjects and verbs must agree. This means that you must use the correct verb form that matches the number of objects in your subjects.
A singular subject, such as the dog must have a singular verb, such as eats to create the dog eats. Mostly, these types of errors are avoided in the case of singular subjects, but there are tricky constructions that confuse many people.
What Is A Subject
A subject is the noun or pronoun that represents what or whom the sentence is about. In simpler terms, it answers the question “Who or what?”
In the sentence “The cat slept on the bed,” “cat” is the subject.
It’s also possible for a sentence to have more than one subject, as in “She and her brother arrived late.” In this sentence, both “she” and “brother” are subjects.
It’s also possible for there to be no subject in a sentence, as in the imperative sentence “Close the door!” In this case, the subject (YOU) is implied. So, when you’re trying to identify the subject of a sentence, just ask yourself “Who or what is this sentence about?”
Takeaway: The subject of the sentence is who the sentence is about.
What Is A Verb
A verb is a word that shows any of the following:
- An action (sing)
- An occurrence (develop)
- A state of being (exist)
Most verbs in English are regular, meaning they form their different tenses by adding -ed. Some verbs are irregular, which means they don’t follow this pattern. For example, the irregular verb “be” changes to “was” in the past tense.
Takeaway: The most important thing to remember about verbs is that they must agree with the subject of the sentence, called subject-verb agreement.
Here are some of the most common subject-verb agreement errors that people make in their writing.
- Forgetting that there can be more than one noun before the verb. For example, the sentence “The couple wants a divorce” is incorrect because there are two subjects (the couple and the Divorce) and only one verb (wants). This is the most common subject-verb agreement error.
- Not knowing what to do with types of pronouns. For example, the sentence “Everyone in the class has their own laptop” is incorrect because the singular pronoun “everyone” should agree with the singular verb “has,” not the plural pronoun “their.”
- Using a singular verb when more than one head noun is joined by words like and, or, nor. For example, “Neither John nor his friends were at the party.”
Avoid these subject-verb agreement mistakes and your readers will thank you for it!
3 Subject Verb Agreement Rules
1) Singular Subject Must Have Singular Verb
A well-trained eye can often spot a sentence in which the subject and verb disagree in number. While this may seem like a small mistake, it can actually change the meaning of the sentence.
In other words, if the subject is singular, the verb must be singular as well; if the subject is plural, the verb must be plural as well. This is the #1 subject verb agreement rule.
2) Sentence is made of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by and, use a plural verb
Nouns and pronouns come in all shapes and sizes. But when it comes to verbs, there’s only one form that really matters: the plural.
That’s right, if you’re talking about more than one noun or pronoun, you need to use a plural verb. It’s simple, really.
3) If there is one subject and more than one verb, the verbs throughout the sentence must agree with the subject
Have you ever noticed how, when there is more than one verb in a sentence, they always seem to agree with the subject? Well, there’s a reason for that.
In English, verbs must agree with the subject in number
- If the subject is singular, the verb must be singular
- If the subject is plural, the verb must be plural
This rule applies regardless of whether the subject is a noun, pronoun, or even an adjective. So next time you’re writing a sentence with multiple verbs, just make sure that they agree with the subject – otherwise, you might end up with some very confused readers.
Two Subjects Connected by Conjunctions
Whenever you have more than one subject connected by and, your verb should take the plural form. This is a key principle in subject-verb agreement.
Jessica and her parents are going to the mall.
Because both of the nouns or pronouns in the subject are doing the action when joined with and, you need to use the plural verb, which is are in this example. If you are unsure if your sentence is correct, test it by substituting indefinite pronouns in the place of the subject.
Since there are multiple people in this example, use they. You wouldn’t say they is going to the mall, so you know you need the plural form are.
When you use the conjunction or with at least two singular nouns, your verb will also be singular, because the sentence implies that only one or the other of the subjects is doing the action.
Jessica or her mother is going to the mall.
To test in this case, you can just drop one of the nouns and see if the sentence is still correct. You wouldn’t say Jessica are going to the mall or her mother are going to the mall, so you need to use the singular verb.
The trickiest form of subject verb agreement occurs when you have singular and plural nouns in the subject of the same sentence.
If the subjects are joined by and, you simply make the verb plural, since all the subjects are doing the action. If the nouns are joined by or, the verb agrees with whichever noun or pronoun is closest to it.
Either the boy or his parents are going to the mall.
Either the parents or the boy is going to the mall.
In these cases, as long as the verb agrees with the closes subject noun, you will be correct.
Takeaway: When more than one subject is connected by and, your verb should take the plural form.
Doesn’t and Don’t
Some people have trouble with the contractions doesn’t, short for does not, and don’t, short for do not. Doesn’t should be used with singular nouns and pronouns, while don’t should be used with plural nouns and pronouns. There is an exception. The pronouns I and you always use don’t.
He doesn’t like baseball. I don’t like baseball.
This can be confusing, but just remember the two exceptions, and you’ll get it right every time.
Phrases Between Subject and Verb
One of the most confusing parts of subject verb agreement is when a phrase comes in between the subject and the verb, because this seems contradictory to the rule that the verb agrees with whatever subject noun is closest. This is not a contradiction of the rule, because the phrase is not part of the subject.
One of my books is red.
Of my books is a phrase that describes which book the speaker is talking about, so the real subject of this sentence is one. This means that the verb, is, must agree with the subject one.
Typically, the subject is the noun that precedes of, which can make the subject easier to spot. There is an exception to this rule: Words that describe a portion are not the subject, and in these cases, the subject will follow the word of. In these cases, the verb must agree with the noun following of.
Twenty percent of those girls want to be doctors.
All of my homework is done.
Some of the dogs did not like her.
Either, Neither, Each, Each One, Everyone, Everybody, Anyone, Anybody, Nobody, Somebody, Someone, and No One
All of the above words are singular and should use a singular verb.
Nobody minds the noise.
Either is fine.
Always Singular or Plural
Some words always take a singular or plural form even if the word may appear to the be the opposite, and you just have to learn what they are.
Common singular words requiring a singular verb: civics, measles, news, mathematics. Most words concerning distances, amounts of money, and time periods will be considered singular when used as a collective unit.
Common plural words requiring a plural verb: pants, trousers, shears, scissors, tweezers.
There Is and There Are
Sentences that begin with there is or there are can be tricky because the subject actually comes after the verb. In these cases, the verb must simply agree with the subject noun after the verb.
There are many dogs.
There is a dog.
Do note that people commonly misuse the contraction form of this rule because it is easier to say there’s than there are. There’s should only be used in the singular form.
There’s a test today.
Collective nouns talk about more than one person but are considered to be singular. Because they imply a singular subject, even though made up of many components, they should use singular verbs.
The team is traveling this week.
The family wants a new car.
Were and Was, Subjunctive Mood
When using were and was, you should stick to number agreement unless the sentence expresses a wish or is untrue. This is called the subjunctive mood, which indicates that a statement is imaginary, hypothetical, or contradictory.
In subjunctive mood, use singular subjects with plural verbs. This rule also applies to other verbs besides was and were, though these are the most commonly confused.
I have asked that he sit in his chair. I wish it were Saturday.
FAQs – Subject-verb agreement
A subject-verb disagreement occurs when the subject of your sentence and its corresponding verb do not match. For example, “She walks to the store” is correct, but “She walk to the store” is incorrect because the subject (“she”) is singular and the verb (“walk”) is plural.
To fix the subject/verb disagreement in a sentence, you need to make the subject and verb agree. In other words, make sure that they both have the same number and tense. For example, take this sentence: “The team are going on a break.” The subject (team) is plural, so the verb (are going) needs to be in the plural form as well. To make it agree, you would change it to “The team is going on a break.”
The flowers need waterings. (singular subject, singular verb)
The team has wons three games in a row. (plural subject, plural verb)
When the subject and verb do not agree, it means that the subject is either singular or plural and the verb does not reflect that. In other words, subject-verb agreement means that if the subject is singular, its accompanying verb should be singular; if the subject is plural, then the verb should be plural.
A singular subject takes a singular verb and a plural subject takes a plural verb. For example, “The dog barks” is correct because “dog” is singular. “Dogs bark” is incorrect because “dogs” is plural.
Typically, when deciding whether to use is or are with and, you need to look at the noun that immediately precedes the and. If that noun is singular, you use is. If the noun is plural or there is more than one noun before the and, you use are.
Verbs with compound subjects are easy to use once you understand the simple rule. When the subjects are joined by and, the verb is plural. So, if you have two or more subjects joined by and, you simply use a plural verb. For example, Harry and I go to school together. We are in the same class. However, if you have two or more subjects that are singular and connected by or or nor, the verb must agree with the subject closest to it. For example, either Harry or I am going to win the race; neither Lisa nor Sam is able to come to the party tonight.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, subject-verb agreement is pretty simple when you break it down. Just make sure that your subjects and verbs match in number (singular or plural), and you’ll be good to go!
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules, but for the most part, these tips should help you nail subject-verb agreement every time.
Subject-verb agreement is key to clear, concise writing. By following the simple rules laid out in this article, you can avoid making common mistakes and improve your writing skills.