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The Basics of the Subject-Verb Agreement

Published by at August 18th, 2021 , Revised On November 12, 2021

The subject and the verb in a sentence are usually placed next to each other. The verb explains the subject’s action and clarifies what or who is doing something. The subject-verb agreement makes it easier for the readers to understand the context of the sentence and the words within it.

Find the subject (the thing or the person doing something) and the verb (a word describing the action of the subject) in a sentence. You will notice that a singular subject accompanies a singular verb. Similarly, when the subject is plural, the verb linked to it will also be plural.

Verb Singular subject and singular verb Plural subject and plural verb
Cause The surgery causes more complications. The surgeries cause more complications.
Show The magician shows tricks. The magicians show tricks.
Do She doesn’t live with her parents. The siblings don’t live with their parents.
Be The finding is a significant breakthrough. The findings are a significant breakthrough.
Become The student becomes happier. The students become happier.

 

The subject-verb agreement is simple to apply in straightforward and short sentences like the ones shown in the above table, but it can be tricky in more complicated and longer sentences. Continue to read this article to learn about the basic rules of the subject-verb agreement and typical mistakes.

Compound Subjects

When two or more subjects are connected to one verb, they are called compound subjects. Look how the subjects are related to figure out whether a singular or plural verb will be the most appropriate choice.

Here are the rules to base your decision:

Subjects Connected With “And”

Make sure to use a plural verb when subjects are connected to each other with ‘and’.

  • Mike and Emma completed their assignment in due time.
  • A car and a motorbike were involved in the accident.

In some cases, you may see two or more nouns put together to form a single entity. Use a singular verb when two nouns appear together, referring to the same thing.

  • Mac and cheese burger is the best
  • The new bed and breakfast are getting popular in the neighborhood.

Subjects Connected With “Or”

Use a singular verb when the subjects are connected with neither—nor, nor, either—or, or.

  • Just the coal or the wood is enough.
  • Either he or she causes this situation.

However, use a plural verb if the subjects are also plural.

  • Either the students or the tutors are responsible for the poor results.

In some cases, you may notice both singular and plural nouns together in the compound subject. The verb is expressed in the form of the subject next to it.

When the Subject and Verb Aren’t Together

Often the subject and verb in a sentence aren’t together, which means the verb doesn’t directly follow the subject. In such cases, it is easy to tie up the verb with an incorrect subject. This particularly applies to longer sentences with multiple clauses and phrases.

  • Incorrect
  • The rules of the university are
  • The rules of the university are
  • A basket of baby kittens was in the garage.
  • A large number of researchers, each of whom is an expert in their field of study, is gathering for the annual science conference.
  • Correct
  • The rules of the university are strict.
  • A basket of baby kittens was in the garage.
  • Many researchers, each of whom is an expert in their field of study, are gathering for the annual science conference.

Confusing Phrases Like “As Well As”

Phrases like “As well as” are pretty different from the conjunction and. While the subjects connecting through “and” take a plural form, you cannot put phrases like “along with”, “in addition to”, and “as well as” alongside the verb.

The verb will be used in the singular form if the subject is singular.

  • Incorrect
  • Mark and his classmates leaves the classroom.
  • Mark, along with his classmates, leave the classroom.
  • The faculty of the department, as well as the Dean, is keen to initiate the project.
  • Correct
  • Mark and his classmates leave the classroom.
  • Mark, along with his classmates, leaves the classroom.
  • The faculty of the department, as well as the Dean, are keen to initiate the project.

Indefinite Pronouns

Treat indefinite pronouns (none, every, somewhere, anything, no one, someone, anyone, anywhere, other) as singular subjects unless they refer to multiple things or amounts. Indefinite nouns are non-specific things, persons, and places.

Some indefinite pronouns can be regarded as either singular or plural depending on whether they discuss a part of a single item or multiple items.

Rule Indefinite Pronouns Examples
Singular All pronouns ending in “thing”, “body”, “one”, or “where”. For example, anyone, someone, somebody, anybody, somewhere, each, etc. Anything is possible.

Someone needs to take responsibility.

Anyone is able to use SPSS.

Plural Few, many, several, both, others Both the dancers put up a show.

Several researchers have explored this research area.

Singular or Plural Some, either, most, more, all, none All of it needs to be rewritten.

More is less.

 

When the Verb Comes Before Subjects

In some cases, the verb appears before the subject in a sentence, particularly when the sentence starts with “here” and “there’. The correct subject must be found and matched with the proper form of a verb. Here and there cannot be the subjects.

  • There are many types of research.
  • Here is a response to your query.

In longer sentences that contain multiple clauses and phrases, identifying the correct subject can be a bit of a challenge. To avoid confusion, make sure to be extra careful when beginning a sentence with “here” or “there”.

Quantities, Numbers, and Amounts

When working with quantities, numbers, figures, and percentages, the correct verb agreement hinges on what you are discussing. Make sure to look past the numbers and amounts to identify the true subject.

Always match the verb with the noun when talking about a specific quantity or number.

  • Only 50% of the total participants have agreed to respond.
  • Two inches of wire from the left side surrounds the core.
  • More than 200 soldiers were killed in the war.

Proportions

In the English language, when we describe a part or portion of something, it takes the form of “most of”, “the majority of”, “some of”, “one-third of”, etc. To avoid mistakes, determine whether the noun you aim to describe is singular or plural, and then match it to the verb.

  • The majority of the participants of the study were females.
  • Most of the research in this field is unreliable.
  • Two-thirds of the participants were given access to SurveyMonkey.

Uncountable and Collective Nouns

It can be challenging to figure whether to treat uncountable and collective nouns as singular or plural.

Uncountable Nouns

Uncountable nouns define intangible ideas or messes uncountable in nature, such as poverty, popularity, research, water, and more. They use a singular verb.

  • This research is unreliable.
  • Water flows down the river.
  • The popularity of university X is increasing.

P.S: The term “data” can take either a singular or plural form of the verb, even though it is a plural noun.

  • This research aims to collect data on the use of bamboo as an alternative to plastic products. Data was collected over a period of 3 months.

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns refer to a group of things or people as a single solid unit: team, committee, union, organization, staff, faculty, etc. Whether it takes singular o plural nouns depends on the style of the English language. While British English uses a plural verb with collection nouns, U.S. English tends to take a singular verb. This rule applies to the names of organizations and business firms.

However, the rule is flexible in both styles of English. You can refer to the actions of the collection noun as the individual actions or a whole depending on what best fits the context.

U.K. English U.S. English
The faculty is not happy. The faculty is not happy.
The lion pride mark the territory. The lion pride marks the territory.
The WHO invite world leaders to a meeting. The WHO invites world leaders to a meeting.
The team put up a fight until the end of the contest. The team puts up a fight until the end of the contest.
Nestle is the world’s leading company. Nestle is the world’s leading company.

 

Abbreviations and Acronyms

Abbreviations and acronyms take a singular verb. Find out whether the full version of the acronym or abbreviation is a singular, plural, or collection noun. Apply the rules above to ensure correct subject-verb agreement.

  • The DNA is cell’s cytoplasm
  • The RPM falls rapidly.
  • The NDA was signed by the employee.
  • In addition to oil, HNS is a common form of cargo.

In the examples above, RPM (“revolutions per minute”) refers to a stand-alone number, so it takes a singular verb. HNS (“hazardous and noxious substances”), on the other hand, is used to describe multiple things, so it takes a plural verb.

 

About Alvin Nicolas

Nicolas has a master's degree in literature and a PhD degree in statistics. He loves to write, cook and run. Nicolas is passionate about helping students at all levels.