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Subject Verb Agreement

Can you spot the mistakes in the following sentences? What's the issue with them?

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Subject Verb Agreement

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Can you spot the mistakes in the following sentences? What's the issue with them?

"They is at the shopping mall."

"The coffee or the tea are on the shelf."

"One of the shops are open."

The problem with these sentences is that the subject and the verb don't agree. For example, in the sentence "They is at the shopping mall," the subject (they) is plural, so the verb should be are.

In this explanation, we will look at the concept of subject-verb agreement, the different rules we should follow, and plenty of examples.

Subject-Verb Agreement Definition

When forming grammatically correct sentences, it is essential that the subject of the sentence 'agrees' with the verb. This means...

  • Singular subjects (e.g., he, she, it, Beyonce) agree with singular verbs/verb forms, e.g., "She is happy."

  • Plural subjects (e.g., we, they, Beyonce and Jay Z) agree with plural verbs/verb forms. e.g., "They are happy."

Before we go any further, let's look at some quick definitions for the terms subject and verb.

The subject of a sentence is who or what the sentence is about. The subject is typically a person, place, or thing that performs an action.

Every complete sentence or clause must contain a verb. Verbs are used to describe an action (e.g., run, sit, talk) or a state (e.g., be, do, has).

So, now we have a basic idea of how subject-verb agreement works, let's take another look at the previous incorrect sentences from the beginning of the explanation and how they should look.

"They are at the shopping mall."

"The coffee or the tea is on the shelf."

"One of the shops is open."

The first example is easy to understand; however, the other two sentences might be a little more confusing. Don't worry, we're about to cover all the rules to ensure the subjects and verbs agree in your sentences.

Subject-Verb Agreement Rules

Here are the main rules to help you decide if you should use a singular or plural verb to ensure your sentences have a correct subject-verb agreement.

For reference, here are some examples of singular and plural verbs:

  • Singular verbs include the auxiliary verbs is, was, and has. As well as main verbs + '-s', e.g., likes, walks, runs, and jumps.

  • Plural verbs include the auxiliary verbs are, were, and have. As well as main verbs without an '-s', e.g., like, walk, run, jump.

Singular Subjects and Plural Subjects

1. When the sentence's subject is singular, use a singular verb.

I am in France.

She is on her way.

He reads a book.

2. When the sentence's subject is plural, use a plural verb.

They are in the restaurant.

We study in the library.

Subject-verb agreement, Image of people reading, StudySmarterNotice how the verb changes depending on the number of people we talk about?

There are a few exceptions to these rules (of course!)

The singular pronouns I and you are accompanied by plural main verbs.

For example,

  • I sings = Incorrect
  • I sing - Correct
  • You is angry = Incorrect
  • You are angry = Correct

When using the singular pronouns I and you with auxiliary verbs, the general rule remains the same, i.e., singular subjects agree with the singular verb form.

For example,

  • I are happy.
  • I am happy.

When using the 3rd person singular (i.e. talking about a singular other person), we use the auxiliary verb is.

For example,

  • He are happy.
  • He is happy.

Multiple Subjects

3. When the sentence's subject is two or more singular nouns joined by the conjunction 'and,' use a plural verb.

Will and Harry are princes.

The eggs and milk are in the refrigerator.

4. When the subject is two or more singular nouns joined by the conjunctions 'or/nor', use a singular verb.

Neither Beth nor Iyla is eating dinner tonight.

Coffee or tea is good for me.

Compound Subjects

5. When a sentence contains a compound subject (multiple subjects, including singular and plural) joined by or/nor/also, the verb should agree with the subject closest to it.

The boy and also his friends run every day.

The students nor the teacher is swimming.

The girl nor her sisters are calm.

Phrases between subject and verb

6. It's easy to be misled by phrases that fall between the subject and verb. To avoid confusion and mistakes, highlight the sentence's subject and verb and simply 'ignore' everything in between.

One of the books is mine. (the subject is one book; don't be misled by the word 'books')

The man with several cars is very loud in the morning.

The players, and the coach, are celebrating tonight.

Indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns are pronouns that don't refer to anything specific, such as anything, something, each, either, neither, someone, somebody, anybody, etc. Indefinite pronouns are usually treated as a singular subject and require a singular verb.

Somebody is knocking at the door.

Neither dog likes this food.

Anything you say is important to me.

Quantifiers and Countable/Uncountable Nouns

When the subject contains a quantifier, e.g., some, many, any, all, the verb can be either singular or plural depending on whether the subject is countable or uncountable. Countable subjects are considered plural and uncountable subjects are singular.

All cheese is delicious. (cheese is an uncountable noun)

There is a lot of hair in the bathtub! (hair is uncountable)

All reports are available online. (reports is countable)

Collective Nouns

Sometimes we use a singular collective noun to refer to a group of people, animals, or things—for example, team, family, crew, staff, and herd. When using collective nouns, the verb should be singular.

The staff is very accommodating.

My family is my world.

Subject-Verb Agreement Errors

Subject-verb agreement errors usually occur when the sentence uses a plural form of the verb instead of the singular, and vice-versa.

Let's look at some of the most common errors and how to avoid them.

  • Use the plural verb form when using the singular pronouns I and You.

  • Use the singular verb form when subjects are joined with Or/Nor.

  • Use the singular verb form for collective nouns
  • Pay attention to the countable and uncountable nouns, rather than the modifiers. Uncountable nouns agree with singular verb forms.

  • Pair indefinite pronouns (e.g., anyone) with singular verb forms.

Subject-Verb Agreement Examples

Let's now look at some correct and incorrect examples of subject-verb agreement in sentences based on the most-common mistakes.

  • I likes chocolate.
  • I like chocolate.
  • Neither Word nor Google Docs are working for me.

  • Neither Word nor Google Docs is working for me.

  • My team are the best.
  • My team is the best.
  • There are so much rice in this burrito!
  • There is so much rice in this burrito!
  • Everyone in the class are lovely.
  • Everyone in the class is lovely.

Subject-Verb Agreement Chart

Here is a helpful chart highlighting the main things to remember when creating sentences with correct subject-verb agreement.

Subject-verb agreement, Graph, StudySmarter

Subject Verb Agreement - Key Takeaways

  • It is essential that the subject of a sentence 'agrees' with the verb. Singular verbs accompany a singular subject, and plural verbs accompany a plural subject.
  • Singular verbs include the auxiliary verbs is, was, and has. As well as main verbs + '-s', e.g., drinks.
  • Plural verbs include the auxiliary verbs are, were, and have. As well as main verbs without the '-s', e.g., drink.
  • When using the singular pronouns I and you, don't add the '-s' to the end of the main verb.
  • Subject-verb agreement errors usually occur when the sentence uses a plural form of the verb instead of the singular, and vice-versa.

Frequently Asked Questions about Subject Verb Agreement

The subject-verb agreement involves matching a singular subject with the singular verb form and matching plural subjects with the plural verb form. An example is using the plural auxiliary verb 'are' with the plural pronoun 'they' - "They are working today."

Begin by finding the subject of the sentence. If it is a plural noun (e.g., cats), a plural pronoun (e.g., they), or multiple single subjects joined with the conjunction and, then the auxiliary verb and main verb should be in the plural verb form (e.g., are, were, main verb without the '-s'). On the other hand, singular subjects should be paired with verbs in the singular form (e.g., is, was, main verb + '-s').

The basic principle behind subject-verb agreement is that singular subjects agree with singular verb forms and plural subjects agree with plural verb forms. 

The subject of a sentence is who or what the sentence is about. The subject is typically a person, place, or thing that performs an action. Examples include the cat, Harry Styles, a tree, and he/she/it/they.

The main rules are:

  • When the sentence's subject is singular, use a singular verb. 

  • When the sentence's subject is plural, use a plural verb.

  • When the sentence's subject is two or more singular nouns joined by the conjunction 'and,' use a plural verb.

  • When the subject is two or more singular nouns joined by the conjunctions 'or/nor', use a singular verb.

  • When a sentence contains a compound subject (multiple subjects, including singular and plural) joined by or/nor/also, the verb should agree with the subject closest to it.

  • Don't get misled by phrases placed between the subject and the verb.

  • Indefinite pronouns are usually treated as a singular subject and require a singular verb.

  • When using collective nouns, the verb should be singular.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Which group of auxiliary verbs are singular verb forms?

Which group of auxiliary verbs are plural verb forms?

When using the personal pronoun I and You, do we use the singular or plural verb form?

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