Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-Verb Agreement

  • The subject of a sentence must always agree with its verb in number. If the subject is singular, then the verb must be singular. Similarly, a plural subject takes a plural verb.
  • Examples:
    • The boy goes to bed early.
      • Boy, which is the subject of this sentence, is singular, so we must use a singular verb.
    • The boys go to bed early.
      • Here we have a plural subject, boys, and so the plural verb must be used.

Collective Nouns

  • When a subject is a collective noun we must find out whether it is regarded as a unit or as several things.
  • Examples:
    • The class was warned not to throw stones.
      • Here, the class is considered as a unit, so a singular verb must be used.
    • All the classes were warned not to throw stones.
      • Because classes is plural, a plural verb must be used.
    • The council is to meet next Thursday.
      • Because council refers to one body a singular verb is used.
    • The council are unable to agree.
      • Because the various members who make up the council are unable to agree we use the plural verb.

Sums and Quantities

  • Words representing sums of money or quantities such as length, weights, etc. are considered as units, and take singular verbs.
  • Examples:
    • Twenty cents was all I had.
    • Six months is a long time to wait.
  • Some nouns which appear to be plural because they end with –s are really singular.
  • Examples:
    • Measles is an infectious disease.
    • The news was better last night.

Subject with Two Nouns

  • When the subject consists of two (or more) nouns joined by and, a plural verb is used.
  • Example:
    • Health and happiness are priceless.
  • But if the two nouns are considered as one thing then the singular verb is used.
  • Example:
    • Bread and butter is often eaten at breakfast.

Or and Nor

  • If the subject consists of two singular nouns joined by or or nor the singular verb is required.
  • Examples:
    • Either the boy or his sister is mistaken.
    • Neither Amy nor Jo was at the party last night.
  • If, however, the nouns joined by or or nor are plural, they take a plural verb.
  • Examples:
    • Either the boys or their sisters are mistaken.
    • Neither the Browns nor the Smiths were at the party.

Pronouns and Verbs

  • Most mistakes in Subject and Verb Agreement are made when the subject is a pronoun.
  • Examples:
He – She – ItIWe – You – They
  • These rules apply when not (n’t) is combined with these verbs.
is not
are not
was not
were not
does not
do not
has not
have not