Subject-Verb Agreement — All Rules & Examples

Time to read: 5 Minutes
Subject-verb-agreement-Definition

This article is a guide for college and university students to write clear and accurate academic essays. When writing a paper, the student should remember to ensure that their sentences have subject-verb agreement.

Subject-Verb agreement – In a Nutshell

  • Subject-verb agreement gives sense to the sentence.
  • Subject-verb agreement depends on subject numbersingular or plural.
  • Subject-verb agreement depends on the subject’s person— first, second, or third person.

Definition: Subject-verb agreement

Subject-verb agreement refers to when the subject in a sentence aligns its describing verbs.

Subject-Verb-Agreement-Example

Subject-verb agreement: Compound subjects

Compound subjects refer to instances where two or more subjects in a sentence are connected to one verb.1

Subject-verb agreement: Subjects linked with “or”

When the compound subjects are connected by or, eitheror, nor, and neithernor, you should use a singular verb.

Examples:

  • Either the boy or his brother stole my phone.
  • Neither Jane nor Julie has seen my brown envelope.
  • I think an apple or a banana is good.

You should only use a plural verb if the subjects used are in plural form.

Example:

Neither the oranges nor the mangoes were ripe.

When compound subjects have both singular and plural subjects, you should consider the subject that has the closest proximity to the verb to achieve subject-verb agreement.

Example:

Neither the cakes nor the pancake is edible.

Subject-verb agreement: Subjects linked with “and”

If the compound subjects are joined by and, the verb takes a plural form.

Examples:

  • The girl and the boy eat sausages in the morning.
  • A car and a lorry were involved in the accident.

An exception to this rule is if the two subjects refer to one entity. In that case, you should use a singular verb.

Examples:

  • The mother and daughter hangout happens every Friday.
  • The father and son dance was interesting to watch.

Subjects separated from verbs

One could make subject-verb agreement mistakes when the verb does not come directly after the verb.2 In long sentences with phrases separating the subject and verb, one should ensure they match the verb with the correct subject for subject-verb agreement.

Incorrect ✘ Correct ✓
A tray of eggs were in his house A tray of eggs was in his house.
Observers of the game was disappointed. Observers of the game were disappointed.
The ten groups, each of which had a good presentation, is moving to the finals. The ten groups, each of which had a good presentation, are moving to the finals.

Subject-verb agreement: Tricky phrases

There is a difference between “as well” and the conjunction “and”. When one uses “and” to connect subjects, one should always use a plural verb.3

In contrast, some phrases like “as well as”, or “along” have no connection to the verb. So, the verb takes the form of the subject.

Incorrect ✘ Correct ✓
The mother and her daughters loves the movie. The mother and her daughters love the movie.
The mother, along with her daughters, love the movie. The mother, along with her daughters, loves the movie.
The students of the school, as well as the teacher, was happy about the play. The students of the school, as well as the teacher, were happy about the play.

Subject-verb agreement: Subjects after the verb

When a subject follows the verb, especially in sentences that start with here or there, the student should identify the subject and match it with a verb.4

Examples:

  • There are many students in this school.
  • Here is the dog.

Subject-verb agreement: Indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns are used to refer to non-specific persons, items, and places. They are considered as singular subjects unless they refer to multiple items.

Indefinite pronouns Examples
Take singular form Pronouns that end in -thing, -body, -one, or -where
Other pronouns like every, each, one, another
Somebody eats carbs.
Every student writes an essay.
Something smells bad.
Take plural form Many, others, few several, both Few employees are hardworking
Take singular or plural form

None, all, some, most, more, any, either Most of the movies were boring.
Most of the movie was boring.

Subject-verb agreement: Numbers and amounts

In the case of numbers, percentages, or proportions, one has to focus on the true subject, rather than the number.

If you use a specific number of something, the verb should match the noun, rather than the number.

Examples:

  • Ten meters of wire surround that area.
  • More than 200 residents live in that estate.

This rule applies to a number that refers to an unnamed noun.

Examples:

  • The students were all present; but, only 10 answered the teacher.
  • 50% claim to hate the current president.

If the subject is a number describing a unified quantity of something, the verb takes singular form to achieve subject-verb agreement.

Examples:

  • Two hundred dollars is adequate.
  • 98% is a great score.

Subject-verb agreement: Proportions

Proportions are accompanied by the term “of”. When dealing with proportions, first determine if the noun is singular or plural and link it to the verb.

Examples:

  • A third of the class was absent.
  • A third of the students were absent.
  • The majority of teachers were absent.

Uncountable and collective nouns

It’s difficult to establish the number form of uncountable and collective nouns.

Subject-verb agreement: Uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns refer to abstract items or masses that one cannot count, such as research, and water—link such nouns with a singular verb.

Examples:

  • The water is clean.
  • The research was impeccable.

The term “data” is considered to be both an uncountable and plural noun. As such, a verb following this phrase can take either form.

Examples:

  • Data were received everyday.
  • The data is stored in these files.

Subject-verb agreement: Collective nouns

A collective noun refers to a phrase used to collectively describe a group of people or things. Collective nouns may take a singular verb in US English and a plural one in UK English.5

This rule is maintained in regards to company names.

US English UK English
The staff is happy. The staff are happy.
The team wins. The team win.
The committee attends an annual meeting. The committee attend an annual meeting.
Target is a popular shopping store. Target is a popular shopping store.
The population is sick. The population are sick.

Even so, this rule is flexible; to determine subject-verb agreement, one should consider whether the noun emphasizes a unified entity or individual items/persons.

Acronyms and abbreviations

When using acronyms and abbreviations, the verb takes a singular verb unless abbreviation letters represent a collective noun or plural subjects.

Examples:

  • The country’s GDP is 3.5 million.
  • The US is a beautiful country.
  • HNS are illegal.

FAQs

It’s when the subject in the sentences matches the verb.

When the noun emphasizes individual items.

Sources

1 Fowler, Henry and Jeremy Butterfield. “Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage.” Oxford University Press. 2015. https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199661350.001.0001/acref-9780199661350.

2 Walden University. “Subject-Verb Agreement Rules.” Accessed December 7, 2022. https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/grammar/subjectverbagreement.

3 Lund University. “Subject-Verb agreement.”  October 27, 2021. https://www.awelu.lu.se/language/common-problems-and-how-to-avoid-them/subject-verb-agreement/.

4 Alahmadi, Nesreen. “A Study of Grammatical Errors of Subject Verb Agreement in Writing Made by Saudi Learners.” International Journal of English Language and Linguistics Research 7, no. 6. December, 2019. https://www.eajournals.org/wp-content/uploads/A-Study-of-Grammatical-Errors-of-Subject-Verb-Agreement-in-Writing-Made-By-Saudi-Learners.pdf.

5 Nayan, Surina and Kamaruzaman Jusoff. “A Study of Subject-Verb Agreement: From Novice Writers to Expert Writers.” International Education Studies 2, no. 3. August, 2009. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1065712.pdf.