Verbs sandwiched between singular and plural nouns

The committee was formed in 2012.
The committee are having sandwiches for lunch.

We often use singular nouns that refer to groups of people (for example: team, government, committee) as if they were plural.

This is because we often think of the group as people, doing things that people do (eating, wanting, feeling etc). In such cases, we use a plural verb. (We also then need to make sure that other words agree – they instead of it, who instead of which.


Here are some examples:

  • The committee have asked for sandwiches for lunch. They have to leave early.
  • My family, who do not see me often, have asked me home for Christmas.
  • The team hope to win next time.

Here are some examples of words and expressions that can be considered singular or plural:

  • choir, class, club, committee, company, family, government, jury, school, staff, team, union, the BBC, board of directors, the Conservative Party, Manchester United, the Ministry of Health

But when we consider the group as an impersonal unit, we use singular verbs (and singular pronouns):

  • The new company is the result of a merger.
  • An average family consists of four people.
  • The committee, which was formed in 2012, is made up of four men and four women.

Notice that this is often a question of style and logic. The important thing is to be consistent.

Some writers of American English treat collective nouns as singular at all times. Subject-Verb Agreement

TOEIC Grammar Guide – Subject-Verb Agreement

TOEIC | Grammar: Subject-Verb Agreement Previous   Up   Next   

Proper sentences must have subject-verb agreement. Subject-verb agreement means the subject and verb match. A singular subject must have a singular verb. A plural subject must have a plural verb.

Singular Plural
The employee goes to work. The employees go to work.
The employee is going to work. The employees are going to work.
The employee has gone to work. The employees have gone to work.
The employee went to work. The employees went to work.

Learning Hint:

To make sure you use the correct verb form with the subject, use the following steps:

  • Figure out what the subject is.
  • Decide if the subject is single or plural.
  • Identify which verb goes with the subject.
  • Check that the verb form matches the subject.


There are rules to follow to help decide what form the subject or verb is in. The subject of a sentence is usually a noun or pronoun.

Singular and Plural Noun Forms

The plural form for most nouns is made by adding -s or -es.

Some nouns plural form is irregular. The irregular ones have to be remembered. Common ones include:

Singular Plural
man men
child children
criterion criteria
medium media

Some nouns with plural form are usually regarded as singular in meaning. Such words include athletics, economics, news, politics, mathematics and statistics.

  • Example:
  • The news tonight has to be good.
  • Measurements and figures ending in -s may be singular when the amount they refer to is a unit:
  • Examples:
  • Three years is a long time to wait.
  • One-third of the lunchroom has new chairs.
  • Note: These words and amounts are plural when they describe single items instead of a whole:
  • The statistics show the market will improve.
  • One-third of the computers in the office have new memory cards.

Compound Subjects

  1. A compound subject, two or more subjects joined by and, takes a plural verb.
  2. Examples:
  3. Coffee and tea are served hot.
  4. The president, the CEO and the sale manager are having a meeting.
  5. Exception:
  6. When the parts of the subject form a single idea or refer to a single thing, the verb is singular.
  7. Examples:
  8. Ham and cheese is his favorite sandwich.
  9. The new president and CEO arrives in an hour.
  10. (The subject is one person who is both the new president and CEO.)
  11. The new president and his CEO arrive in an hour.
  12. (The subject is two people so the verb has to be plural.)

Collective Nouns

A collective noun names a group of people or things. Examples are army, audience, government, family, group, team, and public. Although a collective noun looks plural, its considered to be one unit, a whole, so it is singular.

  • Examples:
  • The group agrees that action is needed.
  • The public receives weather warnings on the radio and on TV.

Exception: Number as a collective noun can be singular or plural. When a comes before number, it is always plural. When the comes before number, it is always singular.

  1. Examples:
  2. A number of employees have decided to car pool.
  3. The number of people without jobs is dropping.

Always Singular or Plural Words

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Some words that can be part of the subject need to be remembered as always being singular or always plural.

  • Words that are always singular: anyone, anything, no one, nothing, neither, either, what, whatever, whoever, somebody, something, someone, each, everyone, everything, and everybody. All of these words are known as indefinite pronouns. These words do not refer to a specific person or thing.
  • Examples:
  • Something is wrong here.
  • Neither is right.
  • Each employee gets 2 weeks paid vacation.
  • Everyone deserves to be happy.
  • Exception: When each follows a compound subject, the verb is plural:
  • The courier and the mailman each have parcels to deliver.
  • Words that are always plural: few, both, several, many.
  1. Examples:
  2. Few people go to the annual picnic.
  3. Several of his friends work in the accounting department.
  4. Both of them deserve a raise.
  5. Many of the senior staff plan to retire early.

Singular or Plural Indefinite Pronouns

Some indefinite pronouns can be singular or plural depending on what comes after them: some, all, most, any, and none. Whether they are singular or plural depends on the meaning of the nouns they refer to.

  • Examples:
  • All of the money is kept for emergencies.
  • (All refers to the singular noun money, so the verb is singular.)
  • All of the reports were finished this afternoon.
  • (All refers to the plural noun reports, so the verb is plural.)
  • None of the parcels ever arrive on Monday.
  • (Parcels is plural, making none plural.)
  • Some of the team needs more time to prepare.
  • (Team is singular, making some singular.)

Relative Pronouns

The relative pronouns who, which and that do not have different singular and plural forms. When used as a subject, its verb should agree with the noun it refers to.

  1. Examples:
  2. The manager should listen to the people who work for him.
  3. (Who refers to the plural people, so the verb is plural.)
  4. Justin is the person who usually fixes our computer problems.
  5. (Who refers to the singular person, so the verb is singular.)

Conjunctions Or and Nor

When parts of a subject are joined by or or nor, the verb agrees with the part closest to it. If the closest part is singular, the verb is singular. If the closest part is plural, the verb is plural.

  • Examples:
  • Neither the secretary nor the receptionist knows the phone number.
  • The engineers or the mechanics have the can of oil.
  • Neither the manager nor the employees were late.

(Manager is singular but employees is plural. Employees is closest to the verb so the verb is plural.)

Either he or they are early.

(He is singular but they is plural. They is closest to the verb so the verb is plural.)


Knowing whether the verb is in its singular or plural form shows which form the subject must be in. The singular present tense of many verbs is formed by adding -s or -es. Irregular verb forms have to be remembered.

Singular Present Tense Plural Present Tense
eats eat
am / is are
bring brings
Singular Past Tense Plural Past Tense
ate ate
was were
brought brought

Verbs Sandwiched Between Singular and Plural Nouns

Today, Bonnie Trenga will help us talk about tricky sentences that make you question whether you should use a singular or plural verb.

Today we’re talking about a tricky kind of sentence that causes you to make a mistake with subject-verb agreement. As we all learned in school, a singular subject agrees with a singular verb, and a plural subject agrees with a plural verb.

 Sometimes, though, other parts of the sentence get in the way and confuse you. Here's an example of the kind of sentence we’re talking about: “The star attractions at the museum were the art.

” Or should it be “The star attractions at the museum was the art”?

Defining Our Problem

Before we can answer the “were” or “was” question in the museum sentence, we need to define the problem. The source of the conundrum is what’s called a distracting predicate noun.

A predicate is what provides information about the subject (1). In the museum sentence, the predicate noun is “the art,” a singular word. The subject, “the star attractions,” on the other hand, is plural.

So should the verb agree with the subject or the predicate noun?

Solving Our Problem

Although this problem may seem complicated, it’s really not. It’s as simple as this: the verb agrees with the subject (2), not the predicate noun. Therefore, “were” is correct in the museum sentence because the subject is “the star attractions,” a plural noun:

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The star attractions in the museum were the art.

Dorothy, don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain, meaning don’t be distracted by the predicate noun. One grammar source calls this problem “false attraction to a predicate noun” (3).

  • Let’s try out one more example. What’s the right verb here:
  • The real draw of this restaurant is the desserts.
  • or
  • The real draw of this restaurant are the desserts.

Well, you know not to be falsely attracted by “the desserts,” which is the predicate noun. Instead, let’s identify the subject; it’s “the real draw,” which is singular. Therefore, the verb must be “is”:

  1. The real draw of this restaurant is the desserts.
  2. What comes after the “is” doesn’t matter.
  3. Sandwich image, Christian Cable at Flickr, CC BY 2.0
  4. Next: How to Avoid the Problem


Grammar Bite: Making Subjects and Verbs Agree

Subject-verb agreement sounds easy, doesn't it? A singular subject takes singular verb:

  • Tom rides his bike to work every day.

A plural subject takes a plural verb:

  • The boys are climbing the walls like caged animals.

Yet The Copyeditor's Handbook lists no fewer than 25 cases that aren't so clear-cut, and Garner's Modern American Usage devotes nearly 5 columns to the topic. Even the comparatively diminutive Grammar Smart devotes five pages (including quizzes) to the topic. What makes subject-verb agreement so hard?

One thing that trips up writers is a long, complicated subject. The writer gets lost in it and forgets which noun is actually the head of the subject phrase and instead makes the verb agree with the nearest noun:

  • The arrival of new fall fashions have excited all the back-to-school shoppers. (should be has to agree with arrival)

Another trap for writers is the trend away from strict grammatical agreement toward notional agreement, that is the verb agrees with the notion the subject is trying to get across, whether it's singular or plural:

  • Twenty-five rules is a lot to digest.
  • Twenty-five rules are listed on the notice.

And then there's the fact that English just refuses to fit neatly into a box and stay there. If English can take a left turn when you thought it would go straight, it does.

Here, then, is a brief rundown of 10 nuances of subject-verb agreement.

A subject made up of nouns joined by and takes a plural subject, unless that subject's intended sense is singular.

  • She and I run every day.
  • Peanut butter and jelly is my favorite sandwich.

When a subject is made up of nouns joined by or, the verb agrees with the last noun.

  • She or I run every day.
  • Potatoes, pasta, or rice pairs well with grilled chicken.

Collective nouns (team, couple, staff, etc.) take either a singular or plural verb, depending on whether the emphasis is on the individual units or on the group as whole.

  • The football team is practicing night and day for the Super Bowl.
  • Boston's school committee disagree about what to cut from the school budget.

Connectives, phrases such as combined with, coupled with, accompanied by, added to, along with, together with, and as well as, do not change the number of the subject. These phrases are usually set off with commas.

  • Oil, as well as gas, is a popular heating choice.
  • Peanut butter combined with bread and jelly is a tasty snack. (Here, the peanut butter, bread, and jelly are one unit, a sandwich, so no commas are needed and we keep the singular verb.)

Collecting noun phrases (a bunch of, a group of, a set of, etc.) take either a singular or plural verb, depending on whether the emphasis is on the individual units or on the group as whole:

  • A group of boys were digging in my flower beds!
  • A set of 12 dishes is all you need for the dinner party.

Each takes a singular verb.

  • Each boy is excited about the meet; each is well prepared.

None takes a singular verb if what it refers to is singular and a plural verb if its referent is plural.

  • None of the peas are left on Sean's plate.
  • None of the book is reproducible without permission.

With fractions, the verb agrees with the whole.

  • One-fourth of the books are gone.
  • One-fourth of the sand is white.

With money, if the amount is specific, use a singular verb; if the amount is vague, use a plural verb.

  • Within a year, $5 million was spent on building a new factory, and millions more were spent on training future factory workers.

The phrase more than one takes a singular verb (yes, I know that doesn't sound logical; try to remember that one is followed by something, whether explicitly or implicitly).

  • More than one box is sitting in the hallway.
  • More than one is sitting in the hallway.
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Have a specific question on subject-verb agreement? Let me know in the comments below!

Subject-Verb Agreement Rules | GMAT Grammar

In this Subject-Verb Agreement tutorial, we cover the basic rules with examples to learn before you start your practice exercises and GMAT mock tests. Ensure that you’ve read the basic article on nouns, pronouns, verbs and adjectives before reading further.

Subject-Verb Agreement Rules

The basic rule about subject-verb agreement is quite simple:

For a sentence to make sense, the verb has to agree with the subject in number.

  • A singular verb is used for a singular noun/pronoun while a plural verb is used for a plural noun/ pronoun.
  • 1) William (singular noun) studies (singular verb) for an hour everyday.
  • 2) The boys (plural noun) study (plural verb) for an hour everyday.
  • 3) We (plural pronoun) try (plural verb) not to eat out too often.
  • For compound subjects where ‘and’ is used to join the individual nouns or pronouns, the verb used is also plural.
  • 1) My mother and her friends go for a walk in the garden.
  • 2) George and Jessy are married.
  • 3) Every Sunday, Amy and I spend the morning at the training institute.

There may be some exceptions where in spite of using ‘and’, the nouns used act as a single entity. For example: Law and order is an important aspect that needs to be addressed.

  1. Let’s examine the case of compound subjects joined by ‘or’, ‘nor’, where one noun/pronoun is singular and the other is plural.
  2. 1) Stephen or his sisters pay a visit to Aunt Anne every week.
  3. 2) The two team members or their manager attends the seminar every weekend.
  4. In this case, the verb needs to agree with the part of the subject nearer to it.

Sometimes there may be a phrase or a clause sandwiched between the subject and the verb. Here the verb has to agree with the noun/pronoun in the subject irrespective of the noun used in the phrase.

  • 1) One of the boys is coming here.
  • 2) The girls waiting near the gate are my friends.
  • 3) The men who participated in the marathon were tired.
  • 4) The number of mosquitoes has increased.

Subject-Verb Agreement Rules for Collective Nouns

  1. These nouns take a singular verb as they act as one whole entity.
  2. 1) The crowd has dispersed.
  3. 2) Our team has won the match.

3) The class starts at 10 a.m.

  • However, see the examples below:
  • 1) The members of the team are excited about the match.
  • 2) All family members have been working hard to decorate the house for the party.
  • In these examples, though a collective noun is used, we are referring to the members of the group and hence the verb used would also be plural.

Rules for Personal Pronouns

  1. Personal pronouns ‘he, she, it’ take a singular verb and ‘we, you, they’ take a plural verb. Following are the examples of subject-verb agreement for sentences beginning with personal pronouns:
  2. 1) We go (plural verb) for a jog in the evening.

  3. 2) He was (singular verb) happy to meet his old friends after a long time.
  4. 3) You were (plural verb) on time.
  5. 4) It is (singular verb) a major issue that needs to be addressed.
  6. 5) You know (plural verb) everything.

Rules for Indefinite Pronouns

  • When the subject has a singular indefinite pronoun, we use a singular verb.
  • 1) Each of these problems is very difficult.
  • 2) Everyone is home on Sundays.
  • 3) Neither of the boys has completed the work.
  • Other singular indefinite pronouns: either, neither, someone, somebody, something, anyone, anybody, anything, no one, nothing, nobody, everybody, everything.
  • Similarly, if the subject has a plural indefinite pronoun, we use a plural verb.
  • 1) Few have attempted the difficult question.

2) Elvin and Michael are good friends.

Both go to the same college.

  1. Other plural indefinite pronouns: many, both, several
  2. For ‘Every’, we use a singular verb.
  3. 1) Every citizen has the right to vote.
  4. 2) Every child gets a chance to learn music here.
  5. Some nouns occur as a pair and hence take a plural verb
  6. 1) My scissors are with you.
  7. 2) My trousers are too long.
  8. Other examples: Shorts, pants, jeans
  9. However, note that it differs as seen in the example below:
  10. A pair of scissors is lying behind the desk.

Here instead of ‘scissors’, we are referring to ‘a pair of scissors’. So we use the singular verb ‘is’ for the noun ‘pair’ instead of ‘scissors’.

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