|LEO: Literacy Education Online|
Subject and Verb Agreement
The subject and verb must agree in number: both must be singular, or both must be plural. Problems occur in the present tense because one must add an -s or -es at the end of the verb when the subjects or the entity performing the action is a singular third person: he, she, it, or words for which these pronouns could substitute.
Notice the difference between singular and plural forms in the following examples:
|Singular ||Plural |
|The student sings. (He or she sings) ||Your children sing. (They sing) |
|The bird does migrate. (It does) ||Those birds do migrate. (They do) |
In order to find out if your subject and verb agree, you need to be able to identify the subject of your sentence. Here are some helpful hints that will help you to decipher where your subject is and where it is not.
Where is my subject?
- Most likely, your verb will agree with the first noun to the left of the verb:
|The Supreme Court judge decides the appropriate penalty. |
|Subject: judge ||Verb: decides |
|The committee members were satisfied with the resolution. |
| Subject: members ||Verb: were |
- Occasionally, a sentence has the subject after the verb instead of before it. This strategy is often used for poetic effect.
|Over the ripples glides a small canoe. |
|Subject: a small canoe ||Verb: glides |
|There was a well-known writer at the meeting. |
| Subject: a well-known writer ||Verb: was |
- You will not find the subject in a modifying phrase (MP), a phrase that starts with a preposition, a gerund, or a relative pronoun and that modifies the meaning of the noun or subject under discussion.
|The group of students is going on a field trip. |
|Subject: the group|| MP: of students ||Verb: is |
|The survey covering seven colleges reveals a growth in enrollment. |
| Subject: the survey||MP: covering seven colleges ||Verb: reveals |
|The speaker whom you saw at the lecture is one of the state senators from Minnesota. |
|Subject: the speaker|| MP: whom you saw at the lecture ||Verb: is |
- If subjects are joined by and, they are considered plural.
|The quarterback and the coach are having a conference. |
|Subject: the quarterback and the coach ||Verb: are having |
- If subjects are joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the closer subject.
|Either the actors or the director is at fault. |
|Subjects: actors, director ||Verb: is |
|Either the director or the actors are at fault. |
| Subjects: director, actors ||Verb: are |
- The relative pronouns (who, whom, which, and that) are either singular or plural, depending on the words they refer to.
|The sales manager is a good researcher who spends a great amount of time surfing the Web for information. |
| Subject: the sales manager ||Verbs: is, spends |
|Sales managers are good researchers who spend a great amount of time surfing the Web for information. |
|Subject: sales managers ||Verbs: are, spend |
- Indefinite pronouns (someone, somebody, each, either one, everyone, or anyone) are considered singular and need singular verbs although they convey plural meaning.
|Anyone who wants to pursue higher education has to pass entrance exams. |
|Subject: anyone ||Verbs: wants, has |
|Everyone on the committee is welcome to express his/her ideas. |
|Subject: everyone ||Verb: is |
- A few nouns can be either plural or singular, depending on whether they mean a group or separate individuals. These words are rarely used as plurals in modern writing.
|The jury is sequestered. |
|Subject: jury ||Verb: is |
|The jury are having an argument. |
|Subject: jury ||Verb: are having |
- A few subjects look plural but are really singular or vice versa.
|The news of the discovery is spreading. |
| Subject: news ||Verb: is |
|The mass media have publicized the facts. |
| Subject: mass media ||Verb: have publicized |
|The data amaze everyone. |
| Subject: data ||Verb: amaze |
© 1997, 1998, 1999 The Write Place
The Write Place
The print handout was revised and then redesigned for the Web by Maggie Escalas for the Write Place, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, Minnesota, and may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the name of the writer; if you revise it, please add your name to the list of writers.
Last Update: 5 October 1999