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Understanding Subject-Verb Agreement

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Understanding subject-verb agreement is vital. We’ll go over what it is and how to avoid subject-verb agreement errors in your writing.

What is subject verb agreement? We'll provide explanations and examples below.
If your sentence isn’t flowing smoothly, there might be a subject-verb agreement error.
Subject-Verb Agreement—Quick Summary

  • Subject-verb agreement is when the subject and verb of a sentence coincide with one another in number (singular or plural) and person (first, second, or third).
  • The train stops every hour.

    The train stop every hour.

  • The main rule of subject-verb agreement is that singular subjects must be paired with singular verbs and plural subjects with plural verbs, but it isn’t always so clear-cut.

What Is Subject-Verb Agreement?

If you look up the word agreement, you’ll come across definitions like “harmony and accordance” or “the absence of incompatibility between two things.”

Knowing this, you can deduce that subject-verb agreement refers to the subject and verb of a sentence being harmonious and compatible with one another.

Errors in subject-verb agreement make sentences clunky and hard to follow. This blog post will go over all the rules you should follow to make sure you avoid making mistakes in subject-verb agreement.

Looking for subject verb agreement with examples? Keep reading.
A sentence’s subject and verb must be in agreement; if not, it’s grammatically incorrect. 

Subject-Verb Agreement Rules

1. Singular subjects must go with singular verbs and plural subjects with plural verbs.

The foundation of subject-verb agreement is quite simple: If the subject is singular, then the verb that follows it must also be singular. Furthermore, if the subject is plural, then the verb must also be plural.

Simply add an “-s” or “-es” to the base form of a verb to make it agree with a third-person singular subject.

He dances gleefully.

With any other subject, use the base form of a verb.

I visit my parents every day.
They cook dinner for me.
The cats enjoy my company too.

Caution: Have and be have their own forms, and don’t get “-s” or “-es” added with third-person singular subjects. Instead, have becomes has. Be has three irregular forms for the present tense and two for the past tense. Additionally, modal verbs also don’t follow this pattern.

It is really cold in the classroom.
Luckily, she has a sweater on.

2. Compound subjects joined by “and” generally require a plural verb.

Compound subjects that are joined by “and” generally take a plural verb.

Ana and Nicole are not here yet.

Ana and Nicole is not here yet.

However, when the subjects joined by “and” are considered a single unit (or refer to the same person or thing), use a singular verb.

Ham and cheese is John’s favorite type of sandwich.

When the compound subject is joined by “or” or “nor,” then singular subjects take a singular verb, and plural subjects take a plural verb.

My mom or my dad is going to attend the play.

My mom or my dad are going to attend the play.

My parents and my brothers are going to attend the play.

My parents and my brothers is going to attend the play.

Sometimes the compound subject joined by “or” or “nor” contains both a singular and plural subject. In this case, the verb should agree with the subject that is closest to it.

Either the receptionist or the clients were lying.
The clients or the receptionist was lying.

3. “Remove” prepositional phrases.

Sometimes a subject and a verb are separated by a prepositional phrase, making the “singular subject with singular verb and plural subject with plural verb” difficult to follow. To avoid errors, just make sure the verb agrees with the subject and not the prepositional phrase. An easy trick would be to cover or remove it to see if the verb agrees with the subject before it. Consider the following sentence:

The plate of cookies has fallen on the kitchen floor.

If you remove the prepositional phrase “of cookies,” the sentence reads:

The plate has fallen on the kitchen floor.

Because the verb must agree with plate and not cookies, the singular verb has is required.

4. Collective nouns can be singular or plural.

Collective nouns take a singular or plural verb, depending on whether it’s referring to the group as a whole or the individual members. If the collective noun is referring to the entire group (team, government, family, etc.), then use a singular noun. But if it’s specifying the individual members of the group, use a plural verb.

The jury decides on a verdict.

The jury disagree on sentencing.

Both sentences above can technically be grammatically correct because in the first example, the jury is a single unit. In the second example, however, the jury refers to the individual members.

Nouns like jeans, eyeglasses, and scissors go with plural verbs because they are made up of pairs, even though technically, they refer to single items.

The jeans look good on you.

The jeans looks good on you.

Additionally, phrases that start with “a number of” take a plural verb, whereas those that start with “the number of” take a singular verb.

A number of photographs we took were selected for the competition.
The number of students that applied was impressive.

5. Remember: Some subjects have a plural form, but are singular in meaning.

Some nouns that end in “-s” appear plural but are singular in meaning. These subjects take singular verb forms. Take the subject United States as an example:

The United States is experiencing high inflation.

The United States are experiencing high inflation.

Some of these nouns can be either singular or plural, depending on the context of the sentence.

Politics is something I don’t understand.
The politics of it are questionable.

Generally, if the plural-form subject is presented as a title, it’s paired with a singular verb.

Economics is a class every high school student should take.

Economics are a class every high school student should take.

6. Most (but not all) indefinite pronouns take singular verbs.

Most indefinite pronouns take singular verb forms (another, anyone, neither, other, something, nothing, etc.)

There are two positions available, but neither intrigues me.

Be careful with these indefinite pronouns because although some indicate a plural number (each, everybody, everything), they are still considered to be singular and therefore take singular verbs.

Everybody is waiting on you.

Everybody are waiting on you.

Both, few, others, many, and several are paired with plural verbs.

Several are leaving.

Some pronouns—all, any, enough, more, most, none, and some—can be either singular or plural. To use the right verb form, look at the noun the pronoun is referring to.

All the pie was eaten.
All the pies were eaten.

7. The verb of a relative clause that starts with “who,” “which,” or “that” must agree with the antecedent.

When the words who, that, and which precede the pronoun, the verb must agree with the antecedent (the word, phrase, or clause that gets replaced by the pronoun).

Love is the secret ingredient that goes into making our slow-cook entrées.
Love and patience are the secret ingredients that go into making our slow-cook entrées.

Subject-Verb Agreement: What To Look Out For

Yes, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to subject-verb agreement. Don’t be intimated by everything that needs to be remembered in order to get it right. The most important things to keep in mind are:

  • The subject and the verb of a sentence must agree in person and in number.
  • Remember that compound subjects joined by “and” generally take a plural verb. Those joined by “or/nor” agree with the part of the subject that’s closest to the verb.
  • Indefinite pronouns can be tricky. Most take a singular verb, but both, few, many, others, and several take a plural verb. All, any, enough, more, most, none, and some can function as either a singular or plural subject.
  • Collective nouns act as a singular subject if it’s referring to a group as a whole, but are plural subjects if they’re referring to the individual members of a group.
LanguageTool Corrects Subject-Verb Agreement Errors

Whether you’re proficient with subject-verb agreement or require some help, it’s never a bad idea to have a second set of eyes to make sure your writing is flawless. LanguageTool is an advanced spelling and grammar checker that can detect these errors and many more. Try it today.

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