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Subject Verb Agreement Rules

A sentence is made of various parts like a machine called words, we give them names like noun, verb, pronoun, adverb, adjective and so on, these are parts of speech. Of course a part of machine must be carefully chosen to fit together to work properly. In the same way the parts that are chosen to fit in a sentence must be carefully selected to work together properly. In grammar this is know as the principal of agreement. In this article we will look at some common problems with subject verb agreement.

Subject Verb Agreement Rules
Subject Verb Agreement Rules

Subject Verb Agreement

The first kind of agreement that is important for you to understand is agreement between subjects and verbs, and when we are dealing with subjects and verbs the most important kind agreement has to do with singular and plural.
Singular:  Singular words refer to one person, place, thing, or idea.

  • Woman
  • Village
  • Bicycle
  • Time

Plural: Plural words refer to more than one person, place, thing, or idea.

  • Women
  • Villages
  • Bicycles
  • Times

Click here to know how to change a singular noun into plural.
On the other hand verbs can also be singular and plural, in many cases the singular and plural form of a verb is the same, but in a few cases singular and plural forms are different.

The Basic Rules of a Verb
Many singular verbs end in “s” or “es.”

  • She jumps.
  • They jump.
  • He does.
  • They do.

A singular subject must have a singular verb; a plural subject must have a plural verb. This looks obvious enough, the problem is that in some specific kinds of sentences applying this rules can get a bit tricky.
Subject Verb Agreement Tricky Situation 1:
When the subject of the verb is an indefinite pronoun it can make tricky the subject verb agreement problem, it mostly happens with indefinite pronouns. 
An indefinite pronoun is a word that is used in place of a noun and whose reference is indefinite or uncertain.
Some Indefinite pronouns like: someone, anyone, all, none, some most. In order to use indefinite pronouns correctly and match them proper singular or plural verb, you need to know a few basic rules.

What You Need to Know About Indefinite Pronouns
Basically, indefinite pronouns can be broken down into three categories:
1. Always singular

  • Each
  • Either
  • One
  • Neither

All pronouns ending in –body or –one: (anybody, somebody, nobody, anyone, no one, someone). Whenever you use these pronouns  as a subject of a verb always consider the pronouns singular and use a singular verb as well.

2. Always plural

  • Both
  • Few
  • Many
  • Others
  • Several 

When you use these pronouns as a subject of a verb always consider the pronouns plural.

3. Singular and plural (Sanam Pronouns)
These pronouns can be used as a singular or plural, therefore some of English learners have problem with. Read the tip to come with a term to this. The reason it is called SANAM Pronouns because it contains the following pronouns.

  • Some
  • Any
  • None
  • All
  • Most
  • Some of the pie was eaten.
    (The verb in the sentence “ was eaten”,“some” subject of the verb which is singular).
  • Some of the students were late.
    The verb of the sentence is “ were” and “some” is the subject of the verb which is plural.

How to know if the Sanam pronoun is singular or plural?
Look at the prepositional phrase that follows the Sanam pronoun.
Some of the pie…………….(“of the pie” prepositional phrase)
Some of the students……………..(“of the students” prepositional phrase)
Always look at the prepositional phrase that follows the Sanam pronoun and that will give you a clue whether the Sanam pronoun is singular or plural.

Subject Verb Agreement Tricky Situation 2:
When the subject is a collective noun.
A collective noun is a noun that is singular in form, but refers to a group of people, places, things, or ides.

  • Team
  • Group
  • Class
  • Flock
  • Committee
  • Family

When the subject of the verb is a collective noun, use either a singular verb or a plural verb depending on how the noun is used. When the noun refers to the group as a whole, use a singular verb. When the noun refers to the group as individuals, use a plural verb.

  • The team is ready for the game.
    (in the sentence the verb is “is” and “team” is the subject of the verb which is a collective noun and it means “ the team as a whole is ready”).
  • The team are dressing in the locker room.
    (in the sentence “team” is subject of the verb which is collective noun and “ are dressing” is the verb which is plural and it means that “a group of individual doing separate things”).

Note: In the majority of cases, collective nouns are singular.

Subject Verb Agreement Tricky Situation 3
A subject that describes an amount is singular, Consider the examples below.

  • One million dollars is a lot of money
    (The verb of sentence is “is” and “one million dollars” is the subject of the verb”, here the sentence is saying about one million dollars as amount and is talking about one thing, therefore singular verb must be used with).
  • Five minutes in the dentist’s chair feels like a long time.
    Here the verb is “feels” which is singular and “five minutes” is the subject of the verb which is grammatically plural, if we think about the phrase “five minutes” indeed refers to five minutes as single unit, one stretch of time and that’s why a singular verb is appropriate.

Subject Verb Agreement Tricky Situation 4
The phrase “the number” is singular; the phrase “a number” is plural. These two phrases might seem equivalent but they are treated differently for grammatical purposes.

  • The number of children in the family is three.
    (Here in this sentence “the number” is the subject which describes an amount and singular verb “is” must be used).
    A number of children are waiting for their parents.
    (In this context “a number of children” is referring to several children and is plural)

Compound Subject
If the two parts of the compound subject are preceded by “each” or “every” use a singular verb.

  • Each pot and pan was washed and carefully put away.

If the parts of the compound subject are joined by the conjunction “or,” we have a different rule.

  • Either Ali or his parents have left an umbrella in the close.
    (Verb should match the subject that is closest to the verb, as you see we have two subjects” Ali” and “his parents” verb is “have left” which is plural and close to the subject which is plural “his parents”)
  • Either Ali parents or Ali has left an umbrella in the closet.
    (Here the verb “has left” is singular because it is closest to the singular subject “Ali”)
  • The students or their teacher is expected to close the classroom door.
  • The teacher or his students are expected to close the classroom door.

Subject Verb Agreement Tricky Situation 5
Words like “as well as” and “ in addition to” do not create a compound subject, because they are phrase and come as interrupter in sentences, therefore a singular subject and a singular verb is correct.

  • The principal, as well as her husband, was a special guest at the function.

Subject Verb Agreement Tricky Situation 6
When words separate the subject and the verb, finding the subject may be tricky. To identify the subject eliminate prepositional phrases before trying to identify the subject.

  • The distance between the Earth and the more distant starts of our galaxy is difficult to measure.
    (The verb is “is”, what is the subject? We need to eliminate the prepositional phrase to find the subject. The prepositional phrase: “between the Earth and the more distant stars of our galaxy” eliminate this and what left is the subject of the sentence. “ The distance”.

Subject verb agreement is usually a simple matter in most sentences, singular subject singular verb, plural subject plural verb, but in tricky situations as we discussed, it is a bit difficult which one to use. The rules we discussed should help and hope you have mastered these tricky situations and learned to apply subject verb agreement appropriately.


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