home :: subject-verb agreement lesson
When people agree about something—a movie to see, what to have for dinner, what constitutes a good book, who to elect for president—they are in accord, or in "sync," on some level anyway. Conversely, when people do not agree, the individuals become aware of being at odds with others. In a sentence, the subjects of the sentence must agree with the verb in the sentence in both number (singular with singular; plural with plural, etc.) and in person (gender). Without this agreement, the reader gets conflicting messages, and stumbles over the text rather than gleaning your message. In this module we will cover the basic and the not so basic rules for creating sound subject-verb agreement.
By the end of this module, you should be able to:
Agreement with Singular and Plural Subjects...
Most of the time, the correct subject/verb combination is easy for writers to figure out; a singular subject takes a singular verb form, and a plural subject takes a plural verb form, as in Kate dances well (not Kate dance well), or I hate okra (not I hates okra), and We enjoy soccer (not We enjoys soccer). However, certain sentence structures can lead to confusion about the actual subject of the sentence and cause a writer to choose an inapropriate verb form for that subject. This module covers these confusing situations, and provides helpful strategies for locating the subject and choosing the appropriate verb form.
Agreement When Words Come Between Subject and Verb...
Watch out for modifying phrases that come between subject and verb! And especially be on the lookout for prepositional phrases, as the object of a preposition can easily be confused with the subject of the sentence. Consider the following sentences:
"Mountain bike" is the subject of the sentence, not "the red frame and the fat tires." These items are part of the prepositional phrase that begins with "with." The phrase is there to tell us more about the mountain bike; it does not make the subject plural.
Another source of trouble is a modifying phrase beginning with together with, along with, in addition to, or as well as:
Because the phrase is non-restrictive (or not necessary to the sentence), it is not part of the subject, and so should not be considered when deciding on the appropriate verb form for the sentence.
Agreement When Subjects are Joined by "and," "or," "neither/nor," or "either/or"
In most situations, subjects connected by "and" are going to be plural:
However, if the subjects joined by "and" refer to a single person, item or simultaneous action, the subject is singular:
Subjects joined by or or by either/or or neither/nor may take singular or plural verbs depending on the form of the subject. If both subjects are plural, the verb will be plural; if both subjects are singular, the verb will be singular. If one subject is singular and the other is plural, the verb agrees with subject it is closest to, even if sometimes this structure feels counter-intuitive.
Agreement With Indefinite Pronouns...
Indefinite pronouns cause a lot of confusion. Some indefinite pronouns, such as all, any, none, most, and some, are confusing because they can be singular or plural depending on the nouns to which they refer;
In the first example, "some" refers to individual persons, and so the verb is plural; in the second example "some" refers to an "uncountable" noun, "cake," and therefore, the verb is singular. To determine the number for a verb used with these indefinite pronouns, check to see if the noun is "countable" (made of up of individual elements that can be counted), or "uncountable" (not countable by individual elements).
Some indefinite pronouns are always singular: for example, anyone, anybody, anything, each, everyone, everybody, everything, nobody, nothing, somebody, someone, and something.
Some indefinite pronuns are always plural: for example, both, few, several, and many.
Agreement With Collective Nouns as Subjects...
Usually, collective nouns will take a singular verb unless the writer wants to emphasize the individuals in a group:
Generally, it is better to name a plural subject rather than use a collective noun as a plural. Collective nouns used with a plural form of a verb tend to sound a bit awkward, as in the example above; "the crew members hope..." sounds a bit better.
Agreement With "Which" "Who" and "That" as Subjects...
When the relative pronouns "which," "who," and "that" are used in an adjective clause (relative clause), the verb in the clause should agree in number with the subject of the sentence (the antecedent for the pronoun).
The antecedent for the pronoun "that" is "trees," so the verb in the adjective clause "that drop fruit" should be plural.
In this sentence, the antecedent for the pronoun "who" in the adjective phrase "who have come against James Bond," is "villains," and so the verb in the phrase should be plural.
In this sentence, however, the antecedent is "one" (the phrase modifies "one" rather than "villains"), and so the verb is singular.
Agreement When Subject-Verb Order is Inverted...
Most of the time the subject comes before the verb, but occasionally, word order is inverted and the subject is delayed. When word order is inverted, it is easy to confuse a noun in an opening phrase with the true subject of the sentence. One signal of a delayed subject is the expletive "there" at the beginning of a sentence:
Word order is also inverted in questions. Often the subject appears between parts of a verb phrase, as in "Has she arrived yet?" The subject must match the first auxilliary verb (first verb form) in number.
Agreement When the Words are a Title...
When a title of a book, film, building, institution, or work of art is the subject of a sentence, it should be treated as a singular subject, even when there is a plural subject in the title:
In addition, when a phrase is referred to in terms of the language itself, the phrase should be treated as singular subject:
Agreement When the Verb is a Linking Verb...
When linking two nouns with a linking verb, the number of the verb should correspond to the number of the subject and not the predicate nominative.
1. agreement with singular and plural subjects
2. when words come between subject and verb
3. when subjects are joined by and, or, neither/nor or either/or
4. with indefinite pronouns
5. with collective nouns as subjects
6. with which, who, and that as subjects
7. when subject-verb order is inverted
8. when the words are a title
9. when the verb is a linking verb