Subject - Verb Agreement

The most important rule to remember when forming a sentence is to make subjects and verbs AGREE! While this may seem like an obvious rule, it is one which is often overlooked.

Following are two simple rules for remembering how subjects and verbs should agree:

  1. A singular subject always takes a singular verb. Use either the -s or -es ending of the present tense of a verb when the subject is in the third person. Subjects will be shown in italics, and verbs will be shown in boldface.
    • The cat plays with the yarn.
    • The boy wishes for a new toy for his birthday.
  2. A plural subject always takes a plural verb. However, do not use -s.
    • The dogs play in the yard.

Here are some additional considerations for forming subject and verb agreement:

  1. Ordinarily, when using Compound Subjects, a plural verb is used with a compound subject.
    • Dogs and cats are usually enemies.
      **The exception to this rule is when the compound subjects are trying to convey a singular idea.
    • The athletic trainer and graduate student is Bill Smith.
  2. When "or," "nor," "either. . .or," "neither. . .nor," "not...but," "not only...but also," are following the compound subject, make the verb agree in number and in person with the nearer subject.
    • Neither the windows nor the door needs to painted.
    • Not the butler but the maids clean the house.
  3. Verbs always agree with the subject in the sentence even if there is a phrase or clause between them.
    • The trees as well as the shrubbery are losing their leaves.
    • The doctor in addition to his nurses has the night off.
      **Such connectives and phrases to look for are: "along with," "as well as," "in addition to," "including," "plus," "together with," "with."
    • The farmer along with the cows rises early.
    • The students together with their teacher say the alphabet.
  4. There are two rules to remember when referring to groups.
    **Use a singular verb when the subject is a collective noun which is referring to the group as a unit. Such collective nouns name a group or a class: congregation, flock, jury, family.
    • The flock of seagulls eats breadcrumbs on the beach.
      **When the members of a group are thought of as individuals, use a plural verb to agree with the subject.
    • The flock of seagulls fly off in all directions.
  5. Nouns that are plural in form but singular in meaning take singular verbs.
    • Politics is a subject of great interest.
      **An exception is made when using scissors or trousers which both take a plural verb except when used after "pair."
    • The scissors are on the table.
    • That pair of scissors is dull.
  6. When using indefinite pronouns use singular verbs. Such Indefinite Pronouns include: "anybody," "anyone," "each," "either," "everybody," "everyone," "neither," "no one," "nobody," "one," "somebody," "someone."
    • Everyone in the room smells the disgusting odor
    • Neither was charged with the crime.

For additional practice using verbs, please visit the Verbs and Verbs: Practice webpages.

Created by Jessica Grecco