Grammar Tips: Understanding Subject/Verb Agreement

20 May

When writing a sentence, it is important for the subject and the verb to be in agreement with one another. In a sentence, the subject of the sentence is the person, place, thing or idea that is doing or being something. Typically, you can find the subject of a sentence if you can find the verb. Verbs are ‘doing’ words. A verb can express a physical action, mental action, or a state of being. If you ask “Who or what ‘verbs’ or ‘verbed’?”, you should be able to locate the subject. The next step is making sure that the subject and the verb are in agreement with one another.

The basic principle for subject/verb agreement is as follows:

  • Singular subjects need singular verbs
  • Plural subjects need plural verbs

For example:

  • The cat is black.
  • The dogs are large.

In both examples, the subject is italicized and the verb is bolded. In the first example, the subject includes only one cat, so a singular verb is used. In the second example, the subject includes multiple dogs, so a plural verb is needed.

There basics of subject/verb agreement:

  1. Some indefinite pronouns are always singular. They will always receive singular verbs.
    1. Singular Indefinite Pronouns: Anyone, Someone/Somebody, Everyone/Everybody, No one, Nobody
    2. Example: Someone had baked a cake.
  2. Some indefinite pronouns are singular or plural depending on what they are referring to.
    1. Singular or Plural Indefinite Pronouns: All, Some
    2. Example: All of the bread is gone.
      1. In this example, ‘all’ refers to a singular loaf of bread, so it requires a singular verb.
    3. Example: Some of the kittens are sleeping.
      1. In this example, ‘some’ refers to numerous kittens, so it requires a plural verb.
  3. The pronouns Neither and Either are singular and will always receive singular verbs.
    1. Example: Neither of the sisters knew how to get to the park.
    2. Example: Either flavor is fine with me.
  4. Sometimes, the subject may follow the verb.
    1. Remember, There/Here are never subjects.
    2. Even if it follows the verb, a singular subject requires a singular verb and a plural subject requires a plural verb.
    3. Example: Here are three students waiting for lunch.
      1. Three students is the subject of the sentence; a plural subject requires a plural verb.
    4. Example: There is no other explanation.
      1. The subject of the sentence is singular, therefore it requires a singular verb.
  5. Some words/subject may end in ‘s’ but may be singular. They will take singular verbs.
    1. Example: The news from the other side was bad.
      1. Although the subject, the news, has an ‘s’ ending, the subject refers to one source of news and it is therefore singular. It requires a singular verb.

Are you confident in your Subject/Verb Agreement knowledge? Test your skills by taking this quiz!

Do you have grammar questions? Are you having difficulty with your writing? Schedule an appointment in the Writing Center today! We are here to help you with any writing question – no matter how small!

© Alyssa Ryan 

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2 Responses to “Grammar Tips: Understanding Subject/Verb Agreement”

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  1. Back to the Basics: How to Recognize Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, and Adverbs | The Christ College Writing Center - June 24, 2015

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  2. Grammar Tips: Winter Review! | The Christ College Writing Center - December 9, 2015

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