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The subject and verb must agree
in number: both must be singular, or both must be plural. Problems
can occur in the present tense because you must add an s
or an es at the end of the verb when the subject performing
the action is third-person singular. (A singular subject would be
he, she, it, or words for which these
pronouns could substitute.)
In the following examples, the subject is in bold,
and the verb is in italics.
- Subject-verb agreement error:
They goes to town. (They
is plural, but goes is the third-person singular verb.)
- Correct: They
go to town.
- Subject-verb agreement error:
She go to town. (She
is singular, but go is the plural verb.)
- Correct: She
goes to town.
Note: The simplest way to determine
whether a verb is singular or plural is to ask which form of the
verb you would use with it and which form you would use
with they. It uses singular verbs, and they
uses plural verbs.
- It eats, sleeps, runs,
wishes, dreams, hates (singular)
- They eat, sleep, run,
wish, dream, hate (plural)
There are many rules of subject-verb agreement. They are listed
below in the order in which you are likely to encounter them. The
first few rules are the ones most frequently broken.
All the examples in this section are correct.
1. A subject and a verb must agree even when
other words or phrases come between them. Frequently, prepositional
phrases come between subjects and verbs. Ignore these prepositional
- Example: The group
of students is going on a field trip. (The subject is
group, so the verb should be is. You
should ignore the prepositional phrase of students.)
- Example: The teacher,
along with her students, finds the instructions confusing.
(The subject is teacher, so the verb should be finds.
You should ignore the prepositional phrase along with her
2. Subjects joined by "and"
usually take a plural verb.
- Example: Joe
and Mary go to town.
Note: For phrases like each
girl and boy or every cat and bird, where the subjects
are considered individually, use a singular verb.
- Example: Each
girl and boy in the class has a different story about
the field trip.
Note: Use a singular verb for
two singular subjects that form or are one thing.
- Example: Iced tea
and lemon quenches your thirst on a hot day.
3. Collective nouns are words that
refer to groups of people or things (e.g., class, jury,
family, crowd, and audience). Collective
nouns can be either singular or plural depending on the context
of the sentence. If the context of the sentence makes you visualize
the group doing something together, as one unit, then the noun is
singular and takes a singular verb. If the context of the sentence
makes you visualize different members of the group performing different
actions, then the noun is plural and takes a plural verb.
- Example: The group
agrees that action is necessary. (The group is acting
as a unit, so the word group is singular.)
- Example: The old group
have gone their separate ways. (The group members
are acting individually, so the word group is plural
in this sentence.)
Note: To avoid awkward-sounding
plural collective nouns, place the members of before the
- Example: The members
of the old group have gone their separate ways.
pronouns that include one, body, or thing
require singular verbs. The words each, either,
every, much, and neither also require
- Example: Neither
wants to work hard.
- Example: Everybody
knows the answer to that question.
5. The indefinite pronouns all, any, more,
most, none, and some can be either singular
or plural, depending on whether the word they refer to is singular
- Example: All
the money is reserved for emergencies. (Here, all
refers to money, which is singular.)
- Example: All
the funds are reserved for emergencies. (Here, all
refers to funds, which is plural.)
6. The indefinite pronouns both, few, many,
and several take plural verbs.
- Example: Both
know the answer to the question.
7. The verb must agree with its subject even when the subject follows
the verb. Questions, sentences beginning with here or there,
and sometimes sentences beginning with a prepositional phrase place
the subject after the verb.
- Example: Is voting
a right or a privilege?
- Example: Are a
right and a privilege the same thing?
- Example: Playing in the sand
were three children and their mother.
- Example: Here are
my birth certificate and passport.
- Example: There is
8. Many nouns ending in -ics (such as economics,
statistics, and politics) take singular or plural
verbs, depending on how they are used. When these words refer to
a course of study or a body of knowledge, they are singular. When
they refer to activities or qualities, they are plural.
- Example: Statistics
(a course of study) is the one course Beth failed.
- Example: The statistics
indicate that the demand for American-made products is
9. Subjects that look plural (because they end in s) but refer to
only one thing are singular.
- Example: The lens
is broken. (The plural of lens is lenses.)
10. Some nouns (such as glasses, pants, pliers,
scissors, and trousers) are considered plural
unless they are preceded by the phrase pair of.
- Example: My glasses
- Example: This pair
of glasses needs cleaning.
11. A linking verb (usually a form of the verb to be) agrees
with the subject (which usually comes before the verb), not the
subject complement (which usually comes after the verb).
- Example: Low wages
are the problem.
- Example: The problem
is low wages.
12. In a dependent
clause with a relative pronoun (who, that,
which), the verb agrees with the antecedent.
- Example: I have a friend who
studies day and night. (The antecedent of who
is the third-person singular noun friend, so
the verb in the dependent clause is third-person singular, studies.)
- Example: Bill bought one of
the three thousand cars that have leather
upholstery. (The antecedent of that is cars,
so the verb is third-person plural, have.)
13. Titles and words referred to as words take singular verbs.
- Example: Star Wars
is my favorite movie.
- Example: Children
is misspelled in your essay.
14. With subjects joined by or or nor, the verb
should agree with the subject closer to it.
- Example: Neither the
teacher nor the students understand.
- Example: Either her
brothers or Mary mows the lawn.
Note: For a more natural-sounding
sentence, place the plural part of a compound subject second.
- Example: Either Mary
or her brothers mow the lawn.
A word of caution:
When we speak, we don't always pronounce the "s" on words
that end in the "sts"and "sks" combination.
He asks (not ask) too many questions.
She insists (not insist) on
always having her way.
Please print this exercise, mark the correct answers, and check
your work against the version with answers.
Exercise on Subject-Verb Agreement
Exercise on Subject-Verb
Agreement Errors with Answers