Subject-Verb Agreement

Today, we’re going to be talking about subject-verb agreement. We’ve talked before about what a subject is and what a verb is, but as a quick reminder, the subject of the sentence is the person or thing performing an action, and the verb is the word describing the action, state, or occurrence of the subject.

Subjects and verbs have to agree with one another in number. That means that if a subject is singular, the verb used with it must also be singular. Just so, if the subject is plural, the verb must be plural.

Let’s unpack that. Singular means just one of the person, animal, or thing that the noun refers to—for example, a single dog, train, or man. Plural means multiple of the person, animal, or thing in question—for example, multiple dogs, trains, or men.

Example 1

Take a look at the following sentence and try to determine whether or not it has proper subject-verb agreement:

The dog chase the cat.

Does something feel off with that sentence? Well, you’re right. Dog is singular, but the verb chase is actually a plural verb. In the present tense, nouns and verbs form plurals in opposite ways: nouns add an s when they are plural, and verbs remove an s. Conversely, if a noun is singular it drops the s, and if a verb is singular it needs an s. So this sentence should actually read:

The dog chases the cat.

OR

The dogs chase the cat.

Example 2

What if it gets a little bit more complicated? What if you have a sentence like this:

She and her friends are at the fair.

The verb in this sentence is the word are, which is a plural verb used with plural nouns, like in the sentence “the fish are swimming” or “the eggs are hatching.” But as you can see, we have two subjects in this sentence: she and her friends. When the subject of the sentence is made up of two or more nouns connected by the word and, you always use a plural verb. Think of it this way: the and lumps the two subjects into a group, making them a multiple which would then be plural!

Example 3

Now, what if the two subjects are joined by something other than the word and, say, the word or for example? Take a look at this sentence:

The book or the pen is in the drawer.

The word or tells us that it’s not both things together that we’re talking about—it’s one or the other. Since both book and pen are singular nouns, we should use the singular verb, is not the plural are. Using a plural verb in a situation like this is a common mistake! Just remember, when two or more singular nouns are connected by the word or, always use a singular verb.

Example 4

Let’s take a look at one more fun complication.

The boy or his friends run every day.

In this sentence, the two subjects are joined by the word or, but one of them is singular (boy) and one of them is plural (friends). How do you choose which of these to match with the verb? It’s easy, actually. When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun joined by or, the verb just agrees with the part of the subject that is closest to it. So in the sentence we looked at, we used run, the plural form of the verb, because friends is plural. If we re-arranged the sentence, we would have to change the verb as follows:

His friends or the boy runs every day.

Don’t be misled by phrases that come between the subject and the verb. The verb has to agree with the subject, remember? Well, sometimes other pronouns or nouns can look like they are the subject, and then it gets tricky. For example, why does the following sentence use a singular verb instead of a plural one?

One of the boxes is open.

The subject isn’t boxes, even though the word boxes does happen to be closest to the verb. The subject is one, which is singular. What about this one:

The team captain, as well as his players, is anxious.

Should you make the verb agree with captain, which is singular, or players, which is plural? Well, since you see the word is you already know the answer—the subject is the team captain, so the verb has to be singular. The part of the sentence about the players is parenthetical, and not the subject.


Review

To recap, it’s important to make sure your subject and verb “agree”—that just means that if you have a plural subject you have to use a plural verb and if you have a singular subject you have to use a singular verb.

I hope this video leaves you prepped and empowered. Thanks for watching!

Practice Questions

Question #1:

 
The team ____ playing their next game on Saturday.

is

are

Answer:

Although there are multiple people that make up a team, the noun team is itself singular; it is one, single thing. Therefore, the singular verb is must be the correct choice here.

Question #2:

 
Either his dog or his cats ______ feeling sick last week.

was

were

Answer:

This sentence contains two subjects, dog and cats. When a compound subject like this contains both a singular and a plural noun joined by “or,” the verb agrees with the subject that is closest to it. In this case, since the plural subject is closest to the conjunction or, the plural verb were is the correct choice.

Question #3:

 
The surgeon, as well as his assistants, ______ now ready to begin the procedure.

is

are

Answer:

The subject of this sentence is the singular noun surgeon. Since the verb has to match the subject, the correct choice here is the singular verb is. The phrase that is set off by commas is not included as part of the subject, meaning you could read the sentence as, “The surgeon is now ready to begin the procedure,” and it still makes sense, which is an easy way to tell which verb to use.

Question #4:

 
I noticed that the boxes and the tape ______ moved to a different room.

was

were

Answer:

Since we are dealing with a compound subject where both parts of the subject are joined by the conjunction and, the verb must be plural. Therefore, the plural subject were is the correct choice.

Question #5:

 
Few of the books on that table _______ to Jorge.

belongs

belong

Answer:

The subject of this sentence is the plural noun few, which means that the plural verb belong is the correct choice here.

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: September 6, 2021