The subject and verb are the most important elements of a sentence. The relation between the subject and verb depends on two issues: person and number. The verb of a sentence must be in agreement with the subject in regard to person and number.
The number of the subject can be singular and plural. The verb must be singular if the subject is singular and the verb must be plural if the subject is plural.
So, identifying the number of the subject is required to take a verb.
The person of the subject can be first, second, and third. The verb changes according to the number and person of the subject.
Rules of Subject-Verb Agreement:
Singular subjects need singular verbs, while plural subjects require plural verbs. ‘Be’ verbs change the most according to the number and person of the subject.
Other verbs do not change much on the basis of the subjects except the verbs of the simple present tense. If the subjects are a third person singular number, the verbs are used with s/es when they are in simple present tense.
The verbs with s/es in the sentence are called singular verbs.
‘Be’ verbs according to number and person of the subject.
|First||I am an excellent tennis player.||We are excellent tennis players.|
|Second||You are a nice person.||You all are nice people.|
|Third||Alex plays well under pressure. He is a good player.||They are good at chasing. They play well under pressure.|
- When the prepositional phrases separate the subjects from the verbs, they have no effect on the verbs.
- A study (singular subject) on African countries shows (singular verb) that 80% of the people (plural subject) of this continent live (plural verb) below the poverty line.
- The perspective of different people varies from time to time.
- The fear of terrorists and militants has made them flee the city.
Nouns connected by the conjunction and in the subject work as the plural subject and take a plural verb.
- Alex and Murphy are coming here.
- Robin and his friends want to go on a tour.
- Apples and mangoes are my favorite fruits.
If the conjunction ‘and’ is replaced by together with/ along with/ accompanied by/ as well as, the verb will have no effect for the later part of these expressions. The words prior to these expressions are the subjects.
- Tom, along with his brothers is going to the city. (‘His brothers’ is not the subject of this sentence.)
- Alex, as well as his parents, is coming to the party.
- The boys, accompanied by their teacher Mr. Robbins are planning a tour.
Note: If these expressions are replaced by ‘and’, the subjects will be regarded as plurals, and so the verbs have to be plural.
Example: Tom and his brothers are going to the city.
Some nouns are always singular and indefinite. When these nouns become the subjects, they always take singular verbs.
|Any + singular noun||No + singular noun||Some + sin. noun||Every + sin. noun||Each + sin. noun|
|Anybody AnyoneAnything||Nobody No oneNothing||Somebody SomeoneSomething||Everybody EveryoneEverything||Each student|
*Note: Either and neither are singular if they are not used with or and nor.
- Everybody wants to live happily.
- Something is bothering him.
- No human being lives in that house.
- Neither of you is responsible enough to handle it.
- Each student has to submit a separate assignment.
Some nouns are always plural. These nouns have two parts.
|Scissors, shorts, eyeglasses, pants, thongs, jeans, trousers, etc.|
- My pants are in the drawer.
- Your eyeglasses are dirty.
- These scissors are useless.
Note: If these words are preceded by the phrase a pair of, they will be regarded as singular subjects.
- A pair of pants is needed.
- This pair of trousers is ugly.
None is a singular subject when it is used alone. When it is used with a prepositional phrase starting with of, the subject can be both plural and singular.
|None + of the + singular noun + singular verb|
|None + of the + plural noun + plural verb|
- None of the money has been used.
- None of the teacher wants failure for students.
- None of the students want to fail.
- None of the bottles are clean enough to keep water.
Note: No + plural noun takes plural verbs.
Example: no men are hungry now.
Either . . . or, neither . . . nor, or, and nor take two nouns before and after them. The nouns placed after these conjunctions are regarded as the subjects of the sentence. The nouns placed prior to the words or and nor have no effect on the verbs.
- Neither Alex nor his brothers are going to the party.
- Either John and Alex or I am doing it.
- I or Robert opens the door when someone comes.
- Neither the boys nor we are responsible for it.
The sentences beginning with here/there are different in structure. In this case, the subject comes after the verb.
|Here/There + verb + subject . . . . . .|
- Here comes(verb) the lion(subject).
- There is a pond near the house.
- There are some candies on the table.
- Here is the document for your car.
Collective nouns are usually regarded as singular subjects.
- The committee has decided to postpone the game.
- The family was ecstatic by the news.
- The crowd enjoys the excitement in the game.
- Twenty dollars is not a lot of money. (Here, the noun is plural, but the subject is regarded as a collective noun.)
Note: The following phrases are also regarded as collective nouns and thus singular subjects.
|Flock of birds/sheep, herd of cattle, pack of dogs/wolves, school of fish, pride of lions|
- A flock of sheep always moves together.
- A pack of wolves is approaching towards the herd of cattle.
- A school of fish always hides from the big fishes.
A number of + noun is a plural subject, and it takes a plural verb. The number of + noun is a singular subject, and it takes a singular verb.
- A number of dancers are coming to the party. (Indefinite number of dancers – plural)
- The number of dancers coming to the party is 12. (Definite number of dancers – singular)
- A number of people prefer cricket to football.
- The number of days in this month is 28.
If a gerund or an infinitive comes as a subject, the verb will always be singular.
- Swimming is a good exercise.
- Walking is a good habit.
- Eating healthy food makes you healthy.
- To err is human.
If the + an adjective appears as the subject of a sentence, it will be plural.
- The pious are loved by God.
- The industrious are always not successful.
- The best do not lack integrity.
Useful English: Agreement
The verb (that is, the verb in the predicate) agrees with the subject in person and number. For example: I work; we/you work; my brother works; my brothers work.
In the past tense, main verbs (regular and irregular) use the same verb forms for all persons: I worked; I knew; we/you worked, knew; my brother worked, knew; my brothers worked, knew.
The verb BE has more forms for agreement with the subject in person and number: I am; he/she/it is; we/you/they are; my brother is; my brothers are; I/he/she/it was; we/you/they were; my brother was; my brothers were.
General principles of agreement of subject and predicate are described in this material. Agreement of personal and possessive pronouns with nouns or pronouns to which they refer is described at the end of this material.
Agreement of subject and predicate in number
The general rule of subject-verb agreement in number is as follows: The subject in the singular requires the verb in the singular. The subject in the plural requires the verb in the plural.
Compare these sentences:
My sister is a doctor. She is a doctor. – My sisters are doctors. They are doctors.
This book is interesting. It is interesting. – These books are interesting. They are interesting.
I am a teacher. You are a student. – We are teachers. You are students.
In order to make sure that your verbs (the action) correctly refer to their subjects (the noun doing the action), it is important to determine the verb tense (when the action is taking place and whether the action is ongoing or completed) and form (singular or plural) based on how many individuals are part of the subject.
Verbs used in the present tense take the base form of the verb.
- I talk; you talk; they talk; we talk - The exception is with the third person singular which takes the s-form (He talks; she talks)
Verbs used in the past tense generally take the ed-form.
- I talked; you talked; they talked; we talked; he/she talked
Verbs used in the present and past participle take the ing, and ed-forms respectively and follow an auxiliary verb (to be, to have, etc.).
- Note how the auxiliary verbs take the s‑form in the third person singular – Present participle: I am talking; you are talking; he/she is talking- Past participle: I have talked; you have talked; he/she has talked
Determining Verb Form Based On The Subject
- Nouns such as family, choir, team, majority, minority—any noun that names a group of individual members—can either be singular or plural, depending on context and meaning. – The family have all gone their separate ways. (“Family” refers to multiple individuals of the group, so it’s plural.) – The whole family is celebrating the holidays at home this year. (“Family” refers to the group as a whole, so it’s singular.)
- Sometimes, the modifier of the headword (the primary noun in the noun phrase) determines the verb form. – The rest of the map was found. – The rest of the books were missing.
- When multiple subjects are joined by and or by “both ___ and,” the subject is plural. – My friends and relatives are coming to the wedding. – Both my friends and my relatives are coming to the wedding.
- In compound subjects linked with or, “either ___ or ___,” or “neither ___ nor ___,” the verb form depends on the closer member of the pair. – Neither the speaker nor the listeners were intimidated by the protestors. – Either the class officers or the faculty advisor makes the final decision.
- Subjects with phrases such as a lot, a great many, and a large number are usually plural, not a singular as the determiner a might suggest. – A lot of classes were canceled. – A great many friends are expected to attend. – A large number of people were gathered outside.
Source: Kolln, Martha, and Robert Funk. Understanding English Grammar. Fifth Edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998.
Subject Verb Agreement – TIP Sheets – Butte College
The verb of a sentence must agree with the simple subject of the sentence in number and person.
Number refers to whether a word is singular (child, account, city, I) or plural (children, accounts, cities, we).
Person refers to whether the word denotes a speaker (I, we are first person), the person spoken to (you is second person), or what is spoken of (he, she, it, they; Gary, college, taxes are third person).
Third person singularChoosing verbs to agree with first and second person subjects is not usually much of a problem, but a peculiarity of third person singular verbs causes some students, especially ESL students, some confusion when working with third person singular subjects.
It matters whether a subject in the third person is singular or plural because the verb form for third person singular often differs from other verb forms. For most third person singular verbs, add an s to the root form of the verb: sit + s = sits, the third person singular form.
(Be careful-while an s on a noun usually denotes a plural, an s on a verb does not make the verb plural.
) Examples of how the verb form changes in third person singular follow; notice that even irregular helping verbs (to have, to be, to do) add an s — has, is, was, does — in third person singular:
|Third person singular (he – she – it)||Third person plural (they)|
|is sitting||are sitting|
|was sitting||were sitting|
|has sat||have sat|
|has been sitting||have been sitting|
|does not sit||do not sit|
|doesn't sit||don't sit|
Thus, Olivia sits, Phong sits, the college president sits in her office, and the remote control sits on the table. When Olivia and Phong get together, however, they sit; the college trustees sit.
Only the simple subjectThe verb must agree with its simple subject — not with the description or explanation of the subject; ignore the descriptions and explanations. If the simple subject is singular, use the singular form of the verb.
If the simple subject is plural, use the plural form of the verb. (For more about subjects, see the TIP Sheet Parts of Sentences: Subject, Verb, Object, Complement.
For tips on how to use prepositional phrases to help identify the subject, see Prepositions and Prepositional Phrases.)
The pink and red flowers in the tall vase have wilted.The old table that my parents gave us needs a coat of paint.The back wheels of the car you borrowed are wobbling.
The verb must agree with its simple subject — not with the subject complement. The subject and its complement are not always both singular or both plural. Even if one is singular and the other plural, the verb agrees with the subject:
His only hobby is his pigeons.Her parents are her sole support.
Compound subjectsA compound subject joined by and is plural and takes a plural verb form:
Olivia and Phong are looking for the remote control. (They are looking.)
The verb for compound subjects joined by or or by (n)either…(n)or agrees with the subject nearer to the verb:
Olivia or Phong has the responsibility to make the video presentation. (He has.)Neither Phong nor Olivia knows if the board will be pleased. (She knows.)The college president or the trustees interview all the candidates. (They interview.)The trustees or the president often asks for a second interview. (He or she asks.)
Relative clausesRelative clauses begin with the relative pronouns who, that, or which and contain a verb separate from that of the independent clause. The verb in a relative clause agrees in person and number to the word — the person or thing — to which the relative pronoun refers:
Most instructors appreciate students who ask good questions.The student who asks a lot of questions is a valuable asset to a class.The logic class, which is known to be difficult, nevertheless attracts a certain type of student.The classes, which are held in the fall, usually fill up fast.
Verb preceding the subjectIn questions, the subject follows the verb, but the subject still determines the person and number of the verb:
Where in the house are the medicines kept? (They are kept.)Why doesn't the soup have any noodles? (It does have.)Under which tree do the mushrooms grow? (They do grow.)
In sentences that begin with a construction such as here is or there are, the subject follows the verb but still determines the person and number of the verb:
Here is the famous flea circus. (It is here.)Here are the famous fleas. (They are here.)There is a mouse in the attic. (It is there.)There are mice in the attic. (They are there.)
Indefinite pronoun subjectsSome indefinite pronouns are always singular, and some are always plural. (Some can go either way; for more on indefinite pronouns, see the TIP Sheets Pronouns and Pronoun Reference, or see a writers' guide such as SF Writer.)
|If your computer is equipped with PowerPoint, click on the PowerPoint icon to the right for a brief PowerPoint presentation on Subject-Verb Agreement. Click HERE for help with Powerpoint.|
Basic Principle: Singular subjects need singular verbs; plural subjects need plural verbs. My brother is a nutritionist.
My sisters are mathematicians.
See the section on Plurals for additional help with subject-verb agreement.
The indefinite pronouns anyone, everyone, someone, no one, nobody are always singular and, therefore, require singular verbs.
- Everyone has done his or her homework.
- Somebody has left her purse.
Some indefinite pronouns — such as all, some — are singular or plural depending on what they're referring to. (Is the thing referred to countable or not?) Be careful choosing a verb to accompany such pronouns.
- Some of the beads are missing.
- Some of the water is gone.
On the other hand, there is one indefinite pronoun, none, that can be either singular or plural; it often doesn't matter whether you use a singular or a plural verb — unless something else in the sentence determines its number.
(Writers generally think of none as meaning not any and will choose a plural verb, as in “None of the engines are working,” but when something else makes us regard none as meaning not one, we want a singular verb, as in “None of the food is fresh.”)
- None of you claims responsibility for this incident?
- None of you claim responsibility for this incident?
- None of the students have done their homework. (In this last example, the word their precludes the use of the singular verb.
Some indefinite pronouns are particularly troublesome Everyone and everybody (listed above, also) certainly feel
Subject-Verb Agreement – NIU – Effective Writing Practices Tutorial
A verb must agree in person and number with its subject.
|Incorrect:||My friend, with his parents, are flying in today to visit me and my family.|
When the subject of the sentence does not agree in number with the verb, the sentence lacks subject-verb agreement. To preserve the subject-verb agreement, singular subjects take verbs marked for singular. Plural subjects must have verbs that are marked for plural.
A verb must agree in number and in person with its subject.
Errors typically occur when the writer does not know whether the subject is singular or plural.
In the sentence above, friend is the only subject and the verb are flying should be in singular form (is flying) to agree with it in number. The phrase with his parents is a prepositional phrase and not part of the subject, so it has no effect on the verb form.
|Correct:||My friend, with his parents, is flying in today to visit me and my family.|
Here is another example:
|Correct:||Neither my mother nor my sisters are coming to visit me this summer.|
Prepositional phrases such as with, together with, along with, as well as are not part of the subject and, therefore, have no effect on the form of the verb. The verb needs to agree in number only with the subject of the sentence.
|Incorrect:||Laura, together with a friend, practice yoga every day.|
|Correct:||Laura, together with a friend, practices yoga every day.|
Compound subjects are joined by and need a plural verb.
Compound subjects joined by and need a plural verb.
|Correct:||Healthy diet and regular exercise are a necessity for a longer, happier life.|
When the compound subject is joined by or, nor, neither… nor, either… or and one part of the compound subject is singular and the other part is plural, the verb needs to agree with the part closest to it.
|Incorrect:||Neither students nor their teacher are participating in this play.|
|Correct:||Neither students nor their teacher is participating in this play.|
If the subject is following the verb in the sentence, rather than preceding it, it still has to agree with it in number.
|Incorrect:||Here's my test scores.|
|Correct:||Here are my test scores.|
Collective nouns which refer to a group of people or things can take either a singular verb or a plural one.
Collective nouns which refer to a group of people or things can take either a singular verb or a plural one depending on the meaning that is being implied. If the collective noun is taken to represent the group as one whole, then the singular form of the verb is used. For example:
|Correct:||The diversity committee was well represented at the last board meeting.|
If individual members are implied, then the verb takes the plural form:
|Correct:||The committee were voting on the representative to the board of directors' meeting.|
|Correct:||The audience was cheering the performer.|
|Correct:||When the concert ended, the audience were reluctant to leave.|
Some nouns occur only in plural form, but they are singular nouns and take a singular verb: politics, news, ethics, measles.
|Correct:||Ethics is an important component of human study.|
Plural nouns of Latin origin take plural verbs (alumni, media, criteria, phenomena). The word data can take both a singular verb or a plural verb. The use of plural is more formal.
|Correct:||Very little data was provided to substantiate the hypothesis.|
|Correct:||The data for the study were collected from over 300 participants.|
Collective nouns which refer to a group of people or things can take either a singular verb or a plural one.
Subjects that express time or amount also take a singular verb.
|Correct:||Forty thousand is an average starting salary for a Computer Science graduate.|
Titles and Country Names
Titles and names of countries take the singular form of the verb.
|Correct:||The Netherlands is a European country that borders Belgium.|