You are on page 1of 6

20 Rules About Subject-Verb Agreement by Mark Nichol

Is, or are? Go, or goes? Whether a verb is singular or plural depends on any one of a complicated set of factors. Here is a roster of rules for subject-verb agreement (or “Here are some rules . . .”): 1. Use verbs that agree with a subject, 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.” 2. Use singular or plural verbs that agree with the subject, not with the complement of the subject: “My favorite type of movie is comedies,” but “Comedies are my favorite type of movie.” 3. Use singular verbs with singular indefinite pronouns — each, the “-bodies,” “-ones,” and “things” (anybody, everyone, nothing), and the like: “Neither is correct.” (And, just as in rule number 1, the presence of a modifier is irrelevant: “Neither of them is correct.”) 4. Use plural verbs with plural indefinite pronouns: “Many outcomes are possible.” 5. Use singular verbs with uncountable nouns that follow an indefinite pronoun: “All the paint is dried up.” 6. Use plural verbs with countable nouns that follow an indefinite pronoun: “All the nails are spilled on the floor.” 7. Use plural verbs with compound subjects that include and: “The dog and the cat are outside.”

”: .” but “Economics is a complicated topic. Use plural verbs in constructions of the form “one of those (blank) who . Use singular verbs for subjects plural in form but singular in meaning: “Physics is my favorite subject.8. .) 12. Use singular verbs with inverted subjects that include singular nouns: “Why is my hat outside in the rain?” 10. 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.” 16. such as nations or organizations. .” 13.) 9.” (“Either the cats or the dog is responsible for the mess” is also technically correct but is awkward. Use singular or plural verbs with collective nouns depending on meaning: “His staff is assembled.” 14. depending on the form of the noun nearest the verb.” but “Staff are asked to go to the conference room immediately. with compound subjects that include nor or or: “Either the dog or the cats are responsible for the mess. Use singular verbs for designations of entities. such as books or films: “The United Nations is headquartered in New York. in the second sentence.” 15. 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.” (In the first sentence. the focus is on compliance by each individual in the body of employees.” 11. the emphasis is on the body of employees. or compositions. Use plural verbs or singular verbs. Use plural verbs for subjects plural in form and meaning: “The tweezers are in the cupboard.

) . .” 20. . . .“I am one of those eccentrics who do not tweet.”: “Every good boy does fine”.” 17.” and “many a (blank) . . Use singular verbs in constructions of the form “the number of (blank) . . .”: “I am the only one of my friends who does not tweet.” “Everybody is entitled to his or her opinion.”: “A number of people here disagree.” To confirm. Use plural verbs in constructions of the form “a number of (blank) . .” “Each boy is responsible for his actions. Use singular verbs in construction of the forms “every (blank) . (Soup is a single entity. 1. .”: “The number of people here boggles the mind. Indefinite Pronouns Most indefinite pronouns correspond to singular verbs: “Someone has left her plate on the table. 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”). The proper verb form for some indefinite pronouns depends on the reference: “All of the soup is gone.” 18. 7 Classes of Noun/Verb Agreement by Mark Nichol Below you’ll find seven classes of noun/verb agreement you need to understand. . Use singular verbs in constructions of the form “the only one of those (blank) who .” 19. “Many a true word is spoken in jest.

” which requires bracketing commas. (The comments are counted as separate entities. however.” “as well as.) “None of the jewelry is missing. however. Conjunctive Phrases The simple conjunction and cannot necessarily be replaced by such phrases as “along with.” “Either option will work for me. if “along with its fawns” is inserted into the sentence “The doe is resting in the meadow.” “Neither the students nor the teacher remembers hearing anything.) 3. the verb form is determined by whether the closest noun is singular or plural: “Either the captain or one of the lieutenants are leading the patrol. The same is true of the other phrases.” and “together with”: “The doe along with its fawns is resting in the meadow. Positive and Negative Subjects in Combination .“Some of the comments are favorable.) The indefinite pronoun none can be singular or plural depending on the context: “None of the jewels are missing. because the plural noun and the singular verb still clash in the second sentence despite their lack of proximity.” (This sentence is correct.” Informally.” (Not one part of the whole entity is missing.” 4. 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.) 2.” However.” (None of the components of the whole entity in question 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. “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.

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.” Some other nouns ending in s are also singular in meaning: “The mumps is a disease you don’t hear much about anymore.” “Here are several choices.” 7.” “A pair of scissors is required for this activity. determines the verb form: “There is a word for that. pair is the subject: “Scissors are dangerous. are matched with plural verbs unless the phrase “pair of” precedes the noun. not its contents.” 6. in that case. such as scissors and pants. the actual subject. is the issue. Plural Nouns for Single Objects Plural nouns that name single objects. be singular or plural: “A small percentage of the employees are opposed.” .” Meanwhile. 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. Expletives In sentences beginning with such expletives as here and there. that is at issue. depending on the context. others stand for a single thing but call for a plural verb: “Thanks are in order. Fractional Phrases Phrases referring to a mathematical portion may.” 5. which follows the verb.” As with “either/or” and “neither/nor” constructions. but its delivery.

” “Ten minus six is four.” “Three-fourths of the land is forested.” .“A large percentage of the cargo was damaged.” Numbers expressed as part of a mathematical operation are linked with a plural verb. but the outcome of a computation is expressed as a single entity: “Ten and six are added together to equal sixteen.” “One-third of the trees are oaks.