Subject-Verb Agreement


Basic Rule. A singular subject (she, Bill, car) takes a singular verb (is, goes, shines), whereas a plural subject (they,we) takes a plural verb(are, go, shine).

 E.g.  - singular subject - My brother is a nutritionist.

  - plural subject - My sisters are mathematicians.


Rule 1. A subject will come before a phrase beginning with of. This is a key rule for understanding subjects. The word  of is the culprit in many, perhaps most, subject-verb mistakes.

 Incorrect: A bouquet of yellow roses lend color and fragrance to the room.

 Correct: A bouquet of yellow roses lends . . . (bouquet lends, not roses lend)


Rule 2. Two singular subjects connected by or, either/or, or neither/nor require a singular verb.

 E.g.        - My aunt or my uncle is arriving by train today.

  - Neither Juan nor Carmen is available. 

  - Either Kiana or Casey is helping today with stage decorations.


Rule 3. The verb in an or, either/or, or neither/nor sentence agrees with the noun or pronoun closest to it.

 E.g.        - Neither the plates nor the serving bowl goes on that shelf.

  - Neither the serving bowl nor the plates go on that shelf.


Rule 4. As a general rule, use a plural verb with two or more subjects when they are connected by and.

 E.g.        - A car and a bike are my means of transportation.

 Exceptions:  - Breaking and entering is against the law.

   - The bed and breakfast was charming.

  In those sentences, breaking and entering and bed and breakfast are compound nouns.


Rule 5. Sometimes the subject is separated from the verb by such words as along with, as well as, with, besides, not.         These words and phrases are not part of the subject. Ignore them and use a singular verb when the subject is  singular.

 E.g.  - The politician, along with the newsmen, is expected shortly.

  - Excitement, as well as nervousness, is the cause of her shaking.


Rule 6. With words that indicate portions : a lot, a majority, some, all, etc. Rule 1 given earlier is reversed, and we are  guided by the noun after of. If the noun after of is singular, use a singular verb. If it is plural, use a plural verb.

 E.g.  - A lot of the pie has disappeared.

  - A lot of the pies have disappeared.

  - A third of the city is unemployed.

  - A third of the people are unemployed.


Rule 7. In sentences beginning with here or there, the true subject follows the verb.

 E.g.  - There are four hurdles to jump.

  - There is a high hurdle to jump.


Rule 8. Use a singular verb with distances, periods of time, sums of money, etc., when considered as a unit.


  Three miles is too far to walk.

  Five years is the maximum sentence for that offense.

  Ten dollars is a high price to pay.

 Exceptions:         - Ten dollars (i.e., dollar bills) were scattered on the floor.



Rule 9. Some collective nouns, such as family, couple, staff, audience, etc. may take either a singular or a plural verb,  depending on their use in the sentence.

 E.g.        - The staff is in a meeting.

   Staff is acting as a unit.

  - The couple disagree about disciplining their child.

   The couple refers to two people who are acting as individuals.