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Subject-Verb Agreement

While many languages require a verb to agree with a subject in number and gender, English requires a verb to match a subject only in number. The general rule seems easy when creating simple sentences. It’s only necessary to remember that if a noun is singular, a verb should be singular too. The same rule is applied to a plural subject. However, complex sentences are more difficult because there can be two and more subjects, and verbs can be separated by other words. The main rules for subject-verb agreement are covered below.

Basic Rules

If “to be” is the main verb in a sentence, we use its forms “is” for a singular subject and “are” for plural in the present tense. We use “was” and “were” in the past tense for singular and plural, respectively:

  • ✔️ He is young.
  • ✔️ They are tired.
  • ✔️ Mary is beautiful.
  • ✔️ The teacher was angry.
  • ✔️ Employees were happy.

If there’s another main verb in a sentence, it should have “s” at the end to match a singular noun. To agree with a plural subject, a verb shouldn’t have “s” at the end.

For example:

Right✔️ Wrong❌
The dog barks at night The dog bark at night
They go to school They goes to school
The student takes biology classes The student takes biology classes The student take biology classes
Betty wakes up early Betty wake up early

However, this rule isn’t applied to the past tense. A verb is transformed into the necessary form, and it’s unnecessary to add “s” so that it could match a subject. Here’s an example:

  • The cat rans across the street.
  • ✔️ The cat ran across the street.

The word “to be” can also be an auxiliary verb. If one of its forms is used with the main verb, it should be changed to match a subject. The same rule is applied to other auxiliaries, including “have” and “do”.

Singular (He, She, It) Plural (We, They, You)
Is Are
Has Have
Does Do
Exception for “You”:
You are You are
You have You have
You do You do
Exception for “I”
I am
I have
I do

For example:

  • ✔️ He has reached success.
  • ✔️ They were crying.
  • ✔️ Children have caught a bird.

Compound Subjects

If a sentence contains more than one subject connected with one verb, these subjects are called “compound.” In some cases, it might be hard to determine which verb should be used – a singular or plural. That’s why it’s necessary to take into account how subjects are connected.

Subjects joined by “and”

Subjects connected with “and” require us to use a plural verb. For example:

  • ✔️ The cat and the dog play with each other every day.
  • ✔️ Mike and Jane are dancers.
  • ✔️ His father and mother have moved to another city.

If “and” links different subjects creating a unit together, it’s necessary to use a singular verb:

✔️ Macaroni and cheese is his favorite dish.

“Or,” “neither.. nor,” “either…or”

Subjects can be also connected by the words “or,” “neither…nor,” and “either…or.” Normally, a plural verb follows plural subjects, and a singular verb goes after singular subjects. Here are a few examples:

  • ✔️ Tom or Mona stays with the kids.
  • ✔️ Neither birds nor people make any noise.

If a sentence contains both a singular and a plural noun, a verb should agree with the closest subject. For example:

  • ✔️ Neither Betty nor her friends play basketball every day.
  • ✔️ The tall man or his kids were there last night.
  • ✔️ Either customers or the manager is guilty.

A Basic Rule For “There is” and “There are”

A compound subject can be placed after a predicate “there is” or “there are.” The verb should agree with the form of the closest noun:

Wrong❌ Right✔️
There is pencils on the table. There are pencils on the table.
There are a dog on the bench. There is a dog on the bench.

If a sentence contains a list of singular subjects, the verb will be singular as well. For example:

  • ✔️ There is a bar, a store, and a library near my house.
  • ✔️ There is a book, a postcard, and a lamp on the shelf.

Phrases Between a Subject and a Verb

Long sentences may include a phrase or a clause between a subject and a verb. However, it’s easy to avoid a mistake because a verb should agree with a subject, not the words separating them.

Wrong❌ Right✔️
A bag of stones were near the pond A bag of stones was near the pond
The core idea of the article uncover social issues The core idea of the article uncovers social issues

Words and phrases, like “as well as,” “along with,” “in addition to,” and “including,” don’t refer to a verb. It means, that a verb shouldn’t take a plural form. A verb will take the same form as a subject – singular or plural:

  • ✔️ The girl, along with her parents, visits her grandmother every week.
  • ✔️ The teacher, as well as the students, was laughing.
  • ✔️ The research paper, including additional materials, is on your table.

Indefinite Pronouns

An indefinite pronoun can be used as a subject. Even though most indefinite pronouns require using a singular verb, there are still cases when we need to include a plural verb in a sentence. For example, pronouns “everyone,” “each,” “nobody,” “somebody,” “someone,” and “anyone” should be followed by a singular verb:

  • ✔️ Everyone knows the answer.
  • ✔️ Somebody screams outside.
  • ✔️ Has anyone closed the door?
  • ✔️ Each customer was happy with the result.

A plural verb always goes after the pronouns “several,” “many,” “few,” “others,” and “both.” Here are a few examples:

  • ✔️ Many students suffer from anxiety.
  • ✔️ Just a few of them know his secret.
  • ✔️ Both of the cats are red.

The pronouns “none,” “all,” “most,” “some,” “more,” and “any” may require using either a plural or a singular verb, depending on the sentence meaning. If a pronoun is used as a part of something, a verb will take a singular form. If a pronoun belongs to a group of people or some things, it’s necessary to use a plural verb. For example:

  • ✔️ Some of these details are important.
  • ✔️ Any part of this story is replaceable.
  • ✔️ Most of it is true.
  • ✔️ Some insist this mission is impossible.

Quantity, Proportions, and Amounts

When identifying the exact quantity or proportion, it’s necessary to pay attention to a noun. If it’s plural, a verb will be plural too. A singular verb will follow a singular noun. Here are the examples:

  • ✔️ Only 15% of customers agree to try a new product.
  • ✔️ More than 59 meters of blue ribbon is needed.

If a noun isn’t specified, a verb should agree with a number:

  • ✔️ I bought 5 apples, but only three were tasty.
  • ✔️ The rest 25% are sure that they will lose the game.

If a number is used as a number belonging to a group or total quantity, a verb takes a singular form:

  • ✔️ Even 5% is an excellent discount.
  • ✔️ One million dollars is a huge sum for his father.

The phrases “a majority of,” “a number of,” and “a lot of” can stand before a noun. Usually, a verb takes a plural form, but there are a few exceptions:

  • ➡️ If “majority” and “number” refer to the exact number, a verb will be singular:
    • ✔️ The number of books you can take is limited to 5.
    • ✔️ The majority of twelve questions is difficult.
  • ➡️ If the phrase “a lot of” is followed by an uncountable noun, a verb takes a singular form:
    • ✔️ There is a lot of snow in the garden.
  • ➡️ In some cases, “the majority of” is used with a singular verb. It’s necessary to take into account the form of a noun. Besides, the word “population” can also require using a singular verb:
    • ✔️ The majority of the population uses smartphones.

Collective and Uncountable Nouns

Collective nouns identify a group of people. They take a singular form, so a verb will be singular too. Here are a few examples:

  • ✔️ My family spends vacations in Greece.
  • ✔️ The school basketball team participates in a competition.
  • ✔️ The admission committee is large.

Uncountable nouns are concepts, substances, and other things that can’t be counted separately. They include a number of words, such as “money,” “sugar,” “water,” “research,” “music,” etc. Uncountable nouns take a singular form, so a verb will be singular too:

  • ✔️ The music is amazing.
  • ✔️ His money was in a wallet.
  • ✔️ The latest research has proved the effectiveness of their idea.

Acronyms and Abbreviations

Typically, acronyms and abbreviations take a singular form. However, it’s better to check the full name to make sure whether there are no plural nouns. For example:

  • ✔️ FBI hires the best candidates.
  • ✔️ CNN is a popular TV channel.

Correct Subject-Verb Agreement

In some cases, it’s hard to pick the right form for a verb. Learning the basic rules will help cope with long sentences containing more than one subject, uncountable nouns, indefinite pronouns, and other tricky words. There are many exceptions connected with the subject-verb agreement in English grammar, so it’s necessary to remember them to avoid mistakes.

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