Subject-verb agreement in English grammar is explained along with a lot of examples, rules to have a basic understanding. Let’s welcome subject-verb agreement!
What is Subject-Verb Agreement & Examples
The basic idea of subject-verb agreement is being able to find the appropriate subject as per the verb, so there will be no errors regarding the subject-verb agreement.
- In this post, we are going to talk about this grammatical aspect in a bit more detailed manner.
- Needless to say, understanding the use of the right verb as per the right subject is definitely one of the most important skills you need to have while using the language.
What is Subject-Verb Agreement?
In order to use the verbs correctly, we need to understand the subject-verb agreement. This is very important to frame a sentence correctly. Now, we are going to look at how to use the verbs correctly with respect to the subject to make them compatible.
Subject-Verb Agreement Definition
The subject-verb agreement is defined as the agreement between subject and verbs to make the sentence meaningful and grammatically correct.
Subject-Verb Agreement Examples
Let’s look at a few subject-verb agreement examples:
- We are confident about ourselves. (Correct)
- We is confident about ourselves. (Incorrect)
For the first sentence, ‘are’ is used because the subject is ‘We’, but in the second sentence, the use of ‘is’ is incorrect with respect to the subject. Much like any other English grammatical element, the subject-verb agreement also comes with a few rules.
Here, I am going to list all these rules along with their suitable examples for a clear understanding. I am also going to list a few exceptions to these rules. Knowing these exceptions will always come in handy. So let’s get started.
The Basic Rules of Subject-Verb Agreement
Subject Verb Agreement Rule#1: In this case, a singular subject will always take a singular verb, and similarly, a plural subject will always take a plural verb.
- E.g., the bottle of milk is/are on the desk.
- Here, if you know that ‘the bottle’ is the subject, you will choose the verb ‘is’ accordingly.
But that’s not all. There are a few rules and exceptions that you need to keep in mind. Let’s take a look at them.
- You need to keep in mind that a subject will come before a phrase if it begins with ‘Of’. This is one of the most important rules to understand the subjects. The word ‘of’ is often responsible for most of the subject-verb agreement mistakes.
Let’s look at an example:
Incorrect: A bouquet of red roses lend color and beauty to the room.
Correct: A bouquet of red roses lends . . . (here, bouquet lends, not roses lend)
Subject Verb Agreement Rule#2: The next rule is where two singular subjects are connected by or, either/or, or neither/nor; it will always require a singular verb. Examples
- My brother or my sister is arriving by plane today.
- Neither the doctor nor the nurse is available.
- Either John or Celia is helping today with the cooking.
Subject Verb Agreement Rule#3: The next rule is, the verb in sentences using or, either/or, or neither/nor will agree with the noun or pronoun closest to it. Examples
- Neither the tuxedo nor the bow-tie goes well with you.
Now, this rule can create some problems.
Like if you are using ‘I’ as one of the subjects, the framed sentence can sound pretty odd.
- Neither John, my other friends, nor I am going to the concert.
To avoid this kind of awkward sentences, it is better to rephrase them like this:
- Neither John, I, or my other friends are going to the concert.
Subject Verb Agreement Rule#4: This is another general rule where you need to use a plural verb with two or more subjects in case they are connected by ‘and’.
Example: A car and a bike are my means of transportation.
But there are a few exceptions to this
- Breaking and entering is against the law.
- Bed and breakfast was excellent.
In these sentences, the exception works since breaking and entering, and bed and breakfast are compound nouns. You can refer to worksheets for subject-verb agreement.
Subject Verb Agreement Rule#5: There might be sentences where the subject is separated from the verb by words like ‘along with’, ‘as well as’, ‘besides’, ‘not’, etc. Now, definitely, these words and phrases are never part of the subject. So you need to ignore them and use a singular verb when the subject is singular.
- The police van, along with the fire-men, is expected shortly.
- Excessive shock, as well as anxiety, is the cause of her shaking.
Subject Verb Agreement Rule#6: The parentheses are not part of the subject.
Example: Jenifer (and his little dog) was always welcome.
Subject Verb Agreement Rule#7: If a sentence begins with ‘here’ or ‘there’, the true subject will follow the verb.
- There are four pens to write
- There is still a long road to walk.
- Here are your keys.
Subject Verb Agreement Rule#8: If the verb used in a sentence is considered as a unit, you need to use a singular verb for distances, periods of time, sums of money, etc.
- Three kilometers is too far to walk.
- Six years is the maximum sentence for his forgery.
- Twenty dollars is a high price to pay for this food.
- Ten dollars (i.e., dollar bills) were lying scattered on the floor.
Subject Verb Agreement Rule#9: If you have a sentence where the words indicate portions — e.g., a lot, a majority, some, all, then the first rule will be reversed, and we will be taking the noun after ‘Of’ into consideration. Hence, if that noun is singular, use a singular verb; if it is plural, use a plural verb.
- A lot of the jam has been wasted.
- A lot of the birds have disappeared.
- A third of the population is under threat.
- A third of the people are unemployed.
- All of my love is for you.
- All of my numbers are now invalid.
- Some of the money is missing.
- Some of the tools are stolen.
Rule#10: When we are using collective nouns such as group, jury, family, audience, population, the verb you use can be singular or plural. But it will depend on the writer’s intent.
- All of my friends has arrived OR have arrived.
- Most of the guests is here OR are here.
- A third of the population was threatened OR were threatened by the new act.
Now, if you intend to use a plural verb with a collective noun, you must take care to be accurate, and also, you need to be consistent. You cannot use it carelessly.
Let’s look at a few such examples to understand this well:
- The staff is deliberating on how they want to vote.
Now, you need to be careful as most speakers and writers usually avoid assigning the singular is and the plural they ‘to staff’ in the same sentence.
If you wish to be consistent, then you can write:
- The staff are deliberating on how they want to vote.
Now, if this sentence sounds awkward to you, then you rephrase it as per your will.
- The staff members are deliberating on how they want to vote.
Rules#11: If you are writing a sentence with indefinite pronouns like ‘nobody’, ‘everybody’, ‘someone’, somebody’, or ‘one’, they will always be considered single.
- E.g., Everyone is a fan of the new singer.
- Nobody is allowed to say anything to him.
- One of us is going to be the next president.
Rule#12: In case you have uncountable nouns, you need to use singular verbs.
- E.g., There is enough food for everyone.
- The hot climate is a problem for everyone around here.
- Milk just happens to be one of my favorites.
Rule#13: If a plural noun comes with names like Paris, Kolkata, Arabian Nights, it will take a singular verb. E.g.,
- China is one of the most populated countries in the world.
- ‘The Kite Runner’ is a great book.
Rule#14: Remember that the word ‘were’ replaces ‘was’ in sentences that express a wish or are contrary to fact: Example
- If he were here, you’d be sorry.
Now, you must be wondering why ‘He’ is not followed by ‘was’ since ‘He’ is singular, is not it? But the thing is, since ‘He’ isn’t actually here, so we use ‘were’ and not ‘was’. This sentence demonstrates the subjunctive mood that is used to express any idea that is –
- imaginary, or
- factually contradictory.
This mood usually pairs the singular subjects with what we typically think of as plural verbs.
- I wish it were Sunday.
- She insisted that he take his stand.
For the first sentence, the subjunctive mode is appropriate since it is a wishful statement. So what we assume as a plural verb is actually a singular verb. In the next sentence, an insisting appeal is being expressed; therefore, the subjunctive mood is correct. Although the subjunctive mood is losing ground in spoken English, it can still be used in formal speech and writing.
So there you go, all the rules of the subject-verb agreement along with their relevant example. We have also mentioned some of the exceptions that are there for you to understand where to use it and where not to. This goes without saying that the more you read the English language, the better you will understand the different grammatical concepts. The subject-verb agreement is also no exception in this case.
Just read more and try to identify the correct uses. Should you have any further queries regarding the subject-verb agreement and its rules, uses, and examples, feel free to put them in the comments below. We shall get back to your comment to solve your queries as soon as possible.