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Subject and Verb Agreement

NOTE: We will use the convention of a thin underline for subjects and a thick underline for verbs. Being able to find the right subject and verb will help you correct errors of agreement. Example: The list of items is/are on the desk. Being able to identify the subject and verb correctly will also help you with commas and semicolons as you will see later.

Rule 7
Sometimes the subject is separated from the verb by words such as along with, as well as, besides, or not. Ignore these expressions when determining whether to use a singular or plural verb. Examples: The politician, along with the newsmen, is expected shortly. Excitement, as well as nervousness, is the cause of her shaking.

Rule 8
The pronouns each, everyone, every one, everybody, anyone, anybody, someone, andsomebody are singular and require singular verbs. Do not be misled by what follows of. Examples: Each of the girls sings well. Every one of the cakes is gone. NOTE: Everyone is one word when it means everybody. Every one is two words when the meaning is each one.

Basic Rule
The basic rule states that a singular subject takes a singular verb, while a plural subject takes a plural verb. NOTE: The trick is in knowing whether the subject is singular or plural. The next trick is recognizing a singular or plural verb. Hint: Verbs do not form their plurals by adding an s as nouns do. In order to determine which verb is singular and which one is plural, think of which verb you would use with he or she and which verb you would use with they. Example: talks, talk Which one is the singular form? Which word would you use with he? We say, "He talks." Therefore, talks is singular. We say, "They talk." Therefore, talk is plural.

Rule 9
With words that indicate portions—percent, fraction, part, majority, some, all, none, remainder, and so forth —look at the noun in your of phrase (object of the preposition) to determine whether to use a singular or plural verb. If the object of the preposition is singular, use a singular verb. If the object of the preposition is plural, use a plural verb. Examples: Fifty percent of the pie has disappeared. Pie is the object of the preposition of. Fifty percent of the pies have disappeared. Pies is the object of the preposition. One-third of the city is unemployed. One-third of the people are unemployed. NOTE: Hyphenate all spelled-out fractions. All of the pie is gone. All of the pies are gone. Some of the pie is missing. Some of the pies are missing. None of the garbage was picked up. None of the sentences were punctuated correctly. Of all her books, none have sold as well as the first one. NOTE: Apparently, the SAT testing service considers none as a singular word only. However, according to Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, "Clearly none has been both singular and plural since Old English and still is. The notion that it is singular only is a myth of unknown origin that appears to have arisen in the 19th century. If in context it seems like a singular to you, use a singular verb; if it seems like a plural, use a plural verb. Both are acceptable beyond serious criticism" (p. 664).

Rule 1
Two singular subjects connected by or or nor require a singular verb. Example: My aunt or my uncle is arriving by train today.

Rule 2
Two singular subjects connected by either/or or neither/nor require a singular verb as in Rule 1. Examples: Neither Juan nor Carmen is available. Either Kiana or Casey is helping today with stage decorations.

Rule 3
When I is one of the two subjects connected by either/or or neither/nor, put it second and follow it with the singular verb am. Example: Neither she nor I am going to the festival.

Rule 4
When a singular subject is connected by or or nor to a plural subject, put the plural subject last and use a plural verb. Example: The serving bowl or the plates go on that shelf.

Rule 10
The expression the number is followed by a singular verb while the expression a number is followed by a plural verb. Examples: The number of people we need to hire is thirteen. A number of people have written in about this subject.

Rule 5
When a singular and plural subject are connected by either/or or neither/nor, put the plural subject last and use a plural verb. Example: Neither Jenny nor the others are available.

Rule 11
When either and neither are subjects, they always take singular verbs. Examples: Neither of them is available to speak right now. Either of us is capable of doing the job.

Rule 6
As a general rule, use a plural verb with two or more subjects when they are connected byand. Example: A car and a bike are my means of transportation.

Use plural verbs with compound subjects that include and: “The dog and the cat are outside. which is singular. So. . Examples: Salma is the scientist who writes/write the reports. Examples: The staff is in a meeting.” (In the first sentence. that.” (And. He is one of the men who does/do the work. Use singular verbs for designations of entities. Here is a roster of rules for subject-verb agreement (or “Here are some rules . The staff are in disagreement about the findings. Use plural verbs with inverted subjects (those beginning with the expletive there rather than the actual subject) that include plural nouns: “There are several hats outside in the rain. or are? Go. or compositions. The word in front of who is men. use the singular verb writes. Five years is the maximum sentence for that offense. not with the complement of the subject: “My favorite type of movie is comedies.” and “-things” (anybody.” Is.” .” 5. Therefore. if that noun is singular.” 6. use a singular verb. 3. The staff are acting as separate individuals in this example. Therefore. the “-bodies. Use plural verbs or singular verbs. just as in rule number 1. The word in front of who is scientist.” 7.” but “Comedies are my favorite type of movie. 20 Rules About Subject-Verb Agreement by Mark Nichol 10. Use plural verbs with countable nouns that follow an indefinite pronoun: “All the nails are spilled on the floor.” (“Either the cats or the dog is responsible for the mess” is also technically correct but is awkward. that. with compound subjects that include nor or or: “Either the dog or the cats are responsible for the mess. . such as books or films: “The United Nations is headquartered in New York. which is plural. use the plural verb do. In sentences beginning with here or there. nothing). Use singular or plural verbs that agree with the subject.” 2. and which become singular or plural according to the noun directly in front of them. Rule 14 Sometimes the pronoun who. and the like: “Neither is correct. Use singular verbs with singular indefinite pronouns — each. use a plural verb. Examples: There are four hurdles to jump. Use singular verbs with inverted subjects that include singular nouns: “Why is my hat outside in the rain?” Rule 13 Use a singular verb with sums of money or periods of time.”) 4. Staff is acting as a unit here. Use singular verbs with uncountable nouns that follow an indefinite pronoun: “All the paint is dried up.” “-ones. or goes? Whether a verb is singular or plural depends on any one of a complicated set of factors. Use plural verbs with plural indefinite pronouns: “Many outcomes are possible. the emphasis is on the body of employees. everyone.) 9. Rule 15 Collective nouns such as team and staff may be either singular or plural depending on their use in the sentence. the presence of a modifier is irrelevant: “Neither of them is correct. Examples: Ten dollars is a high price to pay. Use verbs that agree with a subject.Rule 12 The words here and there have generally been labeled as adverbs even though they indicate place. in the second sentence.) 12. or which is the subject of a verb in the middle of the sentence. the focus is on compliance by each individual in the body of employees.”): 1. such as nations or organizations. The pronouns who.” 11.” 8.” but “Staff are asked to go to the conference room immediately. the subject follows the verb. depending on the form of the noun nearest the verb. If it is plural. Use singular or plural verbs with collective nouns depending on meaning: “His staff is assembled. There is a high hurdle to jump. not with a noun that is part of a modifying phrase or clause between verb and subject: “The pot of eggs is boiling on the stove. The sentence would read even better as: The staff members are in disagreement about the findings.

American novelists who wanted to show that a character was uneducated would give them dialog with incorrect subject-verb agreement: “Waall. you have to follow a rule called “subject-verb agreement.” That means that if the subject is plural (ducks). Use singular verbs for subjects plural in form but singular in meaning: “Physics is my favorite subject. More than anything else.”: “A number of people here disagree.”: “Every good boy does fine”.” after them. Don’t get distracted if there’s another phrase between the subject and the verb. sentences that begin with several nouns tend to fool people. the object would have to agree with the subject too. Two singular subjects connected with Six Rules for Making Subjects and Verbs Agree by Michael the conjunctions or or norneed a singular verb. . For example. It works the same way with and…or and neither…nor: “Neither my mother nor my father is going to call me today. you should say “My sister. have gender.”: “I am the only one of my friends who does not tweet. .” and “many a (blank) . pronouns and nouns. If you spoke Basque. Use plural verbs in constructions of the form “one of those (blank) who . Use plural verbs for subjects plural in form and meaning: “The tweezers are in the cupboard. not singular. .” 15. use a plural verb: “The general or his advisers are responsible for the decision. we is just gonna have to ride .” To make it less confusing. many singular. along with her children.” but “Economics is a complicated topic. and need a plural verb. and you would use a plural verb.” But two parents together are plural. 3. which is correct: “My mother and my father are visiting me” or “My mother and my father is visiting me?” After all.13. . such as French. This issue is not as picky and unimportant as you might think. because only one of them will be calling. . . is visiting me If you want to write proper English. we put the plural subject last. a plural subject combined with a singular subject is still plural. .” 20. . 2. Of course. “Many a true word is spoken in jest. In fact. “My mother or my father is going to call me today” is correct. Use singular verbs in construction of the forms “every (blank) . Use singular verbs in constructions of the form “the number of (blank) . it’s correct to say “My father is visiting me.” 17. even inanimate objects. this is correct: “The general and his advisers are responsible for the decision. For example. Use singular verbs in constructions of the form “the only one of those (blank) who . while many plural verbs don’t – exactly the opposite of nouns.”: “The number of people here boggles the mind.” If one of the subjects is plural. . For example. Use singular or plural verbs for subjects plural in form but plural or singular in meaning depending on the context: “The economics of the situation are complicated.” 18. . dey tells me not to do dat!” It could be worse. then the verb needs to be plural (quack). closest to the verb. Two singular subjects connected with and are plural. In many languages. usually don’t become plural by addings. Notice that English verbs. closest to the verb. ain’t we?” or “But suh.” Again. Traditionally. .” 19. we put the plural subject last.”: “I am one of those eccentrics who do not tweet.” 16. some vowels need to agree. and they have to agree with each other too. Use plural verbs in constructions of the form “a number of (blank) .” 14. For example. If the subject is singular (duck) then the verb needs to be singular (quacks). unlike nouns. so you need to use are. . Here are some rules to guide you into what you should do with them: 1. present-tense verbs end with s. In proper Turkish.

“Either/Or” and “Neither/Nor” Neither and either refer to two compared or associated objects as individual entities and are therefore usually employed with singular verbs: “Neither she nor I are ready for that. fractions or portions of a plural noun are still plural.” not “are impressed by them. Time and money are singular. For example.” Informally. Most indefinite pronouns correspond to singular verbs: “Someone has left her plate on the table.” Notice that many of these rules are really just warnings to look carefully at the sentences you write.anybody.” make sure the verb agrees with the singular subject each instead of the plural noun daughters. however. Words such as either. 4. five is plural. anyone. not with other nouns that happen to precede the verb. if “along with its fawns” is inserted into the sentence “The doe is resting in the meadow.” Below you’ll find seven classes of noun/verb agreement you need to understand. everyone.” “Neither the students nor the teacher remembers hearing anything. On the other hand. 1. Often these are expressed with prepositional phrases: “most of the students” or “half of the campus. neither. don’t be fooled if a singular subject is followed by plural nouns.) “Some of the comments are favorable. are singular and need a singular verb.) 2.” (None of the components of the whole entity in question are missing. you are on your way to sounding more educated. when you write “each of my daughters.) “None of the jewelry is missing.” 5.next month. but you would write “Five yards is all I need to finish my sewing project.” which requires bracketing commas. And the singular subject “everyone who knows my daughters” should be followed by the singular predicate “is impressed by them.” “Each boy is responsible for his actions.” The verb needs to agree with the subject. however.) 3. Yes. everybody.” and “together with”: “The doe along with its fawns is resting in the meadow. and the word yards is plural. test for the proper verb form by writing a simple sentence in which is follows the pertinent pronoun: “Someone is missing” (not “Someone are missing”). an exception is made in such constructions as “Are either of you ready?” In “either/or” and “neither/nor” constructions with a mixture of singular and plural nouns.) The indefinite pronoun none can be singular or plural depending on the context: “None of the jewels are missing.” “as well as. Conjunctive Phrases The simple conjunction and cannot necessarily be replaced by such phrases as “along with. (The comments are counted as separate entities. write “Some of the students are wealthy. the verb form is determined by whether the closest noun is 7 Classes of Noun/Verb Agreement by Mark Nichol singular or plural: “Either the captain or one of the lieutenants are leading the patrol.” 6. The same is true of the other phrases.” “Either option will work for me. The proper verb form for some indefinite pronouns depends on the reference: “All of the soup is gone. Once you know that subjects and verbs need to agree.” (This sentence is correct. but a plural verb if it’s plural. none or eac h.” To confirm.” and “Half of the campus is covered with trees. someone. Indefinite Pronouns .” even though you would say “My sister and her daughters are visiting me next month. As we just said. (Soup is a single entity.” Use a singular verb if the object of the preposition is singular.” “Everybody is entitled to his or her opinion. and you know what counts as the subject and what doesn’t.” (Not one part of the whole entity is missing. For example.

Don’t breathe the chemical fumes. that is at issue. It’s cold enough to see our breath. but its delivery. He must be allowed time to grieve. Plural Nouns for Single Objects Plural nouns that name single objects. is the issue. which follows the verb. Charlie will be her éscort. escort. Let’s recórd the baby’s first word. because the plural noun and the singular verb still clash in the second sentence despite their lack of proximity.” Meanwhile. be singular or plural: “A small percentage of the employees are opposed. Here are some examples: I do not approve of his cónduct. in that case.However. The shoes are made of cloth. Positive and Negative Subjects in Combination A subject consisting of positive and negative sentiments that differ in singular and plural form should be followed by a verb that corresponds with the positive element: “The delivery of the speech.” 7. That last remark was an ínsult.” Some other nouns ending in s are also singular in meaning: “The mumps is a disease you don’t hear much about anymore.” . How dare you insúlt your father? Celery and tomatoes are fresh próduce. Some food is difficult to digést.” 6. Some examples are conduct. That’s his fifth platinum récord. Who will advise the king? He likes a warm bath.” “Three-fourths of the land is forested. pair is the subject: “Scissors are dangerous. Some noun/verb pairs shift in pronunciation and in spelling. depending on the context.” “Ten minus six is four. are matched with plural verbs unless the phrase “pair of” precedes the noun. With each of these words. but pronounced differently according to whether the word is being used as a noun or as a verb. not its contents. it is advisable to construct the sentence so that the singular pronoun precedes the plural one: “Neither the teacher nor the students remember hearing anything.” 4. Expletives In sentences beginning with such expletives as here and there. the accent shifts according to the part of speech. He will escórt her to the Prom.” Numbers expressed as part of a mathematical operation are linked with a plural verb. You will notice that for the noun the accent falls on the first syllable. John Williams will condúct the symphony . determines the verb form: “There is a word for that. perhaps it is best to rearrange the sentence so that the singular noun is in proximity with the verb: “It is not the contents of the speech. others stand for a single thing but call for a plural verb: “Thanks are in order.” Careful with Words Used as Noun and Verb by Maeve Maddox English has numerous word pairs that are spelled alike. the actual subject. Feed the hungry and clothe the naked. but the outcome of a computation is expressed as a single entity: “Ten and six are added together to equal sixteen. He subscribes to the Congressional Dígest. They bathe in the river. on the second.” “A pair of scissors is required for this activity. These are the ones writers need to be aware of. 5. Fractional Phrases Phrases referring to a mathematical portion may.” “One-third of the trees are oaks. and record. He felt grief at the death of the child. and others like them. digest. for the verb. insult. such as scissors and pants. Here are a few that I’ve seen misused : Take his advice with a grain of salt.” “Here are several choices. These factories prodúce the finest widgets. produce.” As with “either/or” and “neither/nor” constructions.” “A large percentage of the cargo was damaged.

Why should I care about parts of . the quicker your readers can untangle it. a word such as “strikes” can be a source of confusion for hasty readers. we all do what our English teachers taught us: we diagram sentences. he is troubled by fears that the treasure won’t be his. I’ll give you half. just to make sense of the sentence. he fears that the treasure won’t be his. the trains that were scheduled this afternoon will be delayed. Labor strikes will delay this afternoon’s trains. Some words will always be troublesome. break the connection between the words that shouldn’t be connected. browse. Here are examples of the kind of confusing sentences I’m talking about: The fear that the treasure won’t be his troubles him throughout the film. if I’m not a teacher of English grammar? Because. No matter where you put it in the sentence. Shorten them and your readers will thank you. and so on. But another leading reason for confusing sentences: uncertainty about what part of speech a word is: noun. which it isn’t. In the first example. verb.” you’ll interpret the sentence as an account of union unrest and riots. If you see “the trains scheduled. Who is doing what to whom? The problem comes when a word can be used as either noun or verb or something else. and we’re not sure at first glance which it is.” you’ll wonder who is in charge now: violent labor unions or sinister trains with a mind of their own. The more complex the sentence. Both phrases misinterpret the sentence. for the wind will listen. since it can be both noun and verb. or speed-read.” their minds will try to turn it into either the subject or the object of the sentence.Here. we want to grasp the gist of the sentence right away. the shorter the sentence. adjective.” they will really get confused. If they see the phrase “his troubles him. the longer it is. The new invention will halve production costs. Of course. To defuse this type of confusing sentence. . The reason whythat’s a problem is that many sentences don’t get more than a first glance. we need to keep “his” and “troubles” apart. What is the proof of your contention? He worked night and day to prove his innocence. a comma may be all you need to add. Throughout the film. Prophesy unto the wind. Is That a Noun or a Verb? I’m Confused by Michael The main reason why sentences are confusing is that they are too long. When many readers see the phrase “his troubles. subconsciously. the more likely we are to search for subjects and predicates. A prophecy of Merlin foretold the Maid. Other ways to say it: Because of labor strikes. We don’t want to have to read it more than once. Other ways to say it: Throughout the film. When we scan. If you see “labor strikes the trains. adverb. Because of labor strikes the trains scheduled this afternoon will be delayed. In the second example.