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Subject-Verb Agreement

Updated on November 15, 2023

Harmonizing Subjects and Verbs in English #

The dance between subjects and verbs is a fundamental aspect of English grammar, and getting their agreement right is essential for clear communication. Languagehood’s guide to subject-verb agreement is designed as a resource for learners at all levels, ensuring that every sentence you craft has the grammatical harmony it deserves.

Understanding Subject-Verb Agreement #

Subject-verb agreement means that a singular subject takes a singular verb, while a plural subject takes a plural verb. This agreement is critical because it can change the meaning of a sentence and is a sign of English language proficiency.

The Rules of Agreement #

Here are the key rules for ensuring subject-verb agreement:

  • Singular subjects need singular verbs. For example: “The cat plays in the yard.”
  • Plural subjects need plural verbs. For example: “The cats play in the yard.”
  • Don’t be misled by phrases that come between the subject and the verb; the verb agrees with the subject, not with a noun or pronoun in the phrase. For example: “The bowl of strawberries is on the table.”
  • With compound subjects joined by ‘and,’ use a plural verb. For example: “The painter and the musician are at the café.”
  • When the compound subjects are joined by ‘or’ or ‘nor,’ the verb agrees with the subject that is closer to the verb. For example: “Either the managers or the director is responsible.”

Special Cases #

Some special cases can pose challenges:

  • The pronouns ‘each,’ ‘each one,’ ‘either,’ ‘neither,’ ‘everyone,’ ‘everybody,’ etc., are singular and require singular verbs.
  • Collective nouns may take either singular or plural verbs, depending on whether the members are acting individually or as a whole.
  • Titles of works, company names, and other plural-looking singular nouns take a singular verb.

Tips for Maintaining Agreement #

  • Be cautious with inverted sentences where the subject follows the verb, especially in questions and clauses beginning with ‘here’ or ‘there.’
  • Remember that verbs do not form their plurals by adding an ‘s’ as nouns do; in the present tense, verbs typically add an ‘s’ to the base form to create the third-person singular.

Examples for Practice #

  • “The list of items is/are on the desk.” (Is is correct – list is singular)
  • “The nearest station is/are miles away.” (Is is correct – station is singular)
  • “Either the teachers or the principal has/have the documents.” (Has is correct if the principal has the documents; have if the teachers have them.)

Mastering subject-verb agreement enhances your ability to write and speak in English with confidence and accuracy. Languagehood offers this guide as a comprehensive toolkit for perfecting the agreement in your sentences, paving the way for impeccable grammar and effective communication.

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