What is Subject-Verb Agreement | Rules and Examples

Gavin Kolner By Gavin Kolner
17 Min Read

Subject-verb agreement refers to the correct matching of a verb with its subject in a sentence. In English, the verb must agree with the subject in number and person. This means that if the subject is singular, the verb must also be singular, and if the subject is plural, the verb must also be plural. Additionally, the verb must be conjugated to match the person of the subject.

Here are examples of subject-verb agreement, with five examples of singular subjects and verbs and five examples of plural subjects and verbs:

VerbSingular subject and verbPlural subject and verb
BarkThe dog barks at the mailman.The dogs bark at the mailman.
SingShe sings in the shower.They sing in the shower.
WriteThe student writes a paper for class.The students write papers for class.
SwimHe swims every morning.We swim every morning.
FallThe apple falls from the tree.The apples fall from the tree.

Mastering subject-verb agreement is crucial for crafting eloquent, grammatically sound sentences. Although it may seem easy in basic sentences, navigating this grammatical concept can become challenging in more intricate sentences. Fortunately, this informative article will provide you with the essential guidelines and frequently made errors to watch out for.

Subjects linked with conjunction “and”

Here is the rule for subject-verb agreement when the subject is a compound subject (consisting of two or more nouns or pronouns linked by “and”):

  • If the compound subject is made up of two nouns or pronouns that are joined by “and” and both refer to the same person or thing, the verb is singular.

In the above example, the subject, “friend and mentor,” refers to the same person, so the verb, “is,” is singular.

  • If the compound subject is made up of two or more nouns or pronouns that are joined by “and” and each refers to a different person or thing, the verb is plural.

The subject, “friends and family,” refers to more than one person, so the verb, “are,” is plural.

Here are a few more examples to illustrate this rule:

Subjects linked with “or”

Here is the rule for subject-verb agreement when the subject is a compound subject (consisting of two or more nouns or pronouns linked by “oreither; ornorneither, nor“):

  1. If the subjects linked with “oreither; ornorneither, nor” and both subjects are singular, the verb should be singular.
  1. If the subjects are both plural, the verb should be plural.
  1. If the subjects are a mixture of singular and plural, the verb should agree with the subject closest to it.

Subjects separated from verbs

If the subject and verb in a sentence are separated by other words or phrases, it’s still important to make sure that the subject and verb agree with each other in number. In other words, if the subject is singular, the verb must be singular, and if the subject is plural, the verb must be plural.

Here are some examples of subject-verb agreement with subjects that are separated from the verbs by words or phrases:

Prepositional phrases like “with,” “together with,” “along with,” and “as well as” do not affect the verb agreement in a sentence. The verb should agree in number only with the subject of the sentence, regardless of any prepositional phrases that may be present. For example:

Indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns are words that refer to an indefinite or unknown person or thing. Indefinite pronouns can sometimes be tricky when it comes to subject-verb agreement because they do not refer to a specific noun or group of nouns. Here are some guidelines for treating indefinite pronouns in subject-verb agreement:

  1. Use a singular verb with indefinite pronouns that are singular, such as “nobody,” “someone,” “anybody,” “each,” “one,” and “either.” For example:
  1. Use a plural verb with indefinite pronouns that are plural, such as “both,” “few,” “many,” “several,” and “others.” For example:
  1. Use a singular verb with indefinite pronouns that can be either singular or plural depending on the context, such as “some,” “none,” “any,” “all,” and “most.” For example:
RuleIndefinite pronouns
Always singularPronouns ending in –where, –body –thing, or –one
(e.g., somewhereanybody, nothing, someone),
everyoneeachanother
Always pluralBoth, few, several, many, others
May be singular
or plural
Some, none, any, allsomemostmore, anyeither

It’s important to pay attention to the context of the sentence when determining whether to use a singular or plural verb with indefinite pronouns. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your subject-verb agreement is correct.

Subjects that come after the verb

In English, the subject of a sentence does not always come before the verb. There are a few situations in which the subject follows the verb, such as when the sentence begins with “there” or “here.”

For example, consider the sentence:

In this sentence, the subject is “cats,” not “there.” “There” is an adverb that is used to indicate the location of the cats. To correctly identify the subject and match it with the correct verb form, we need to look beyond the adverb and find the noun that is performing the action expressed by the verb. In this case, the subject is “cats,” which is plural, so the verb “are” is correctly used in the plural form.

Here is another example:

In this sentence, the subject is “bus,” not “here.” “Here” is an adverb that indicates the location of the bus. The subject “bus” is singular, so the verb “comes” is correctly used in the singular form.

It’s important to pay attention to the true subject of a sentence, even if it follows the verb or is introduced by an adverb like “there” or “here.” This will help you ensure that you are using the correct verb form and creating grammatically correct sentences.

Numbers, Percentage and Proportions

When you’re using numbers, percentages, or proportions in a sentence, the correct form of verb agreement depends on the noun you’re describing, not the number itself. You should always look beyond the numbers and focus on the true subject of the sentence in order to determine the correct verb agreement.

For example:

The subject of the sentence is “50%,” but the verb “is” should agree with the noun “class,” which is singular.

On the other hand, if you say:

The subject of the sentence is still “50%,” but the verb “are” should agree with the noun “students,” which is plural.

When you’re using a term that describes a proportion of something, you should first determine whether the noun you’re describing is singular or plural, and then use a verb that agrees with the noun.

For example, if you’re using the term “most” to describe a group of people, you would say “most people are,” because “people” is plural. If you’re using the term “most” to describe a singular noun, such as “most of the cake,” you would say “most of the cake is.”

In this example, the noun being described is “students,” which is plural, so the verb “are” is correctly used to agree with the plural noun. The term “most” is being used to describe the proportion of absent students, so the verb should agree with the noun “students.”

Here’re another examples:

The same rule applies when a number, percentage, or proportion is used to refer to an unnamed noun.

If the subject of the sentence is a number referring to a unified quantity of something, you should use a singular verb. This is because the number is being used to describe a single, unified quantity, and the verb should agree with the singular subject.

For example:

It’s also important to pay attention to verb tense. If you are describing a current situation or a fact, you should use the present tense. If you are describing a past situation, you should use the past tense.

For example:

Compound predicate

In a sentence with a compound predicate, all the verbs must agree with the subject. A compound predicate is a sentence that has two or more verbs or verb phrases that share the same subject. The subject of the sentence determines the number (singular or plural) and person (first, second, or third) of the verb.

For example:

In this sentence, “she” is the subject, and “sings” and “plays” are the verbs. Both verbs must agree with the subject “she,” which is singular and third person.

In this sentence, “they” is the subject and “eat” and “drink” are the verbs. Both verbs must agree with the subject “they,” which is plural and third person.

In this sentence, “teacher” is the subject and “grades,” “prepares,” and “holds” are the verbs. All three verbs must agree with the subject “teacher,” which is singular and third person.

Collective nouns

Collective nouns are words that describe a group of people, animals, or things. Some common collective nouns include “team,” “flock,” and “herd.”

In general, it is more common to use a singular verb with collective nouns, especially in formal writing. However, if the context makes it clear that the members of the group are acting independently, it is also acceptable to use a plural verb.

For example:

In each of these examples, the verb choice depends on whether the collective noun is being treated as a single unit or as a group of individuals. If the collective noun is being treated as a single unit, the verb should be singular. If the members of the group are being treated as individuals, the verb should be plural.

Uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns are often referred to as “mass nouns” because they refer to a mass or quantity of something, rather than a specific number of individual items. They are typically singular in form and do not have a plural form. As a result, they take a singular verb in a sentence, regardless of the subject.

For example:

There are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, if you are talking about different types or quantities of an uncountable noun, you might use a plural verb.

For example:

Some nouns that refer to a concept or idea, such as politics, news, ethics, and measles, are treated as singular even though they are technically plural in form.

The word “data” can be either singular or plural depending on how it is used in a sentence.

When “data” is treated as a singular noun, it refers to a mass of information or a collection of facts that can be analyzed or studied. In this case, it is typically accompanied by a singular verb. For example:

When “data” is treated as a plural noun, it refers to individual pieces of information or facts that are being presented or discussed. In this case, it is typically accompanied by a plural verb. For example:

It’s worth noting that the use of a plural verb with “data” is more formal and is more commonly found in written English, while the use of a singular verb is more common in spoken English.

Abbreviations or acronyms

Abbreviations or acronyms usually take a singular verb. For example:

In some cases, abbreviations and acronyms may be treated as plural nouns and take a plural verb. This is typically the case when the abbreviation or acronym refers to multiple things or people.

For example:

The subject is “CDs,” which is an abbreviation for “compact discs,” and the verb is “are.”

Subjunctive mood

The subjunctive mood is used to express a variety of non-real or hypothetical situations, such as wishes, imaginations, or situations that are contrary to fact. It’s used to convey that something is not currently true or not currently happening.

The word “were” is one way to form the subjunctive mood in English. It’s used instead of “was” in situations where the speaker is talking about something that is not true or not currently happening. For example:

The subject is “she,” and the verb is “were.” This sentence is saying that if the subject were a bird (which is not currently true), she would fly to the moon. The use of the word “were” instead of “was” helps to convey the non-real or hypothetical nature of the situation being described.

In conclusion, subject-verb agreement is a critical aspect of grammar that refers to the need for the subject and verb in a sentence to agree in number. This means that if the subject is singular, the verb must also be singular, and if the subject is plural, the verb must also be plural. Proper subject-verb agreement is important because it ensures that a sentence is clear and correctly conveys the intended meaning. By understanding and applying the rules of subject-verb agreement, writers can craft clear and grammatically correct sentences that are easy for readers to understand.

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