Subject-Verb Agreement

English verbs always agree with their subjects in number (singular or plural) and in person or point-of-view (first, second, third).  Verbs can be comprised of many individual verb words, including main verbs and auxiliary verbs (modals, helping verbs, etc).

Simple Present Tense

It is important to pay attention to simple present tense. In this tense, we add “–s” or “–es” on the main verb or helping verb if the subject is a singular noun or he/she/it.

Examples 

She tries hard to pass this class.

Janice does not work as hard. 

Indefinite pronouns are considered singular such as one, anybody, anyone, somebody, everybody, everyone, anything, everything, someone, something, neither, nothing, no one, each, every, none.

Examples 

No one wants to see the movie adaptation of that book.

Neither of us sings very well.

Modal auxiliaries do not follow this rule because they never take “–s” or “–es” endings.

Examples 

He should study harder.

Joe might not have the time to finish his homework if he does not stop playing games.

Verb-Subject Agreement

It is important to make the verb agree with its subject, not just the closest noun.

Nouns can function as either subjects or objects, but not both.  Look for the subject noun, and avoid the objects of the preposition.

Examples 

The cup at the top of the boxes is attractive.

High levels of pollution in the city are responsible for the flu epidemic.

Plural Subjects

Most subjects joined by “and” are plural. This is known as a compound subject.  Do not confuse these with compound sentences. In this situation, the verb becomes plural as well. 

Examples 

Jack’s help and friendship are the sources of my strength.

Reading and writing are two of my favorite subjects.

When the parts of the subject form a unit, or when they refer to the same thing/person, the verb should remain singular.

Examples

John’s friend and mentor was invited to the party but didn’t show up.

 Joseph’s wife and best friend is finally getting her PhD.

Or/Nor and Either/Neither

Do use the closest noun when those subject nouns are joined with “or/nor” and “either/neither.” Despite the fact that the two nouns appear to be joined, the meaning implies only one subject.

Examples 

A driver’s license or two photos are required.

Two photos or a driver’s license is required.

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are singular unless the meaning is clearly plural. They emphasize the noun as a single unit.

Examples 

The jury is deliberating.

The entire family is gathered to celebrate Grandpa’s birthday. 

Occasionally, if you want to draw attention to individual members of the group, collective nouns may be treated as plural.

Examples 

The family are fighting over who will inherit the antiques.

The audience laugh uproariously as the comedian.

“The Number” vs. “A Number”

The subject “the number” is treated as singular.  The subject “a number” is treated as plural.

Examples 

The number of drunk drivers is slowly declining.

A number of college freshman are taking ENGL 101.

Subject Complements

Make sure the verb agrees with its subject, not with a subject complement. Pay attention to which noun is the clause’s main subject.

Examples 

A major force in today’s society is women.

The primary supporters of the labor movement are adjunct faculty.


Kayla | 2019

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