In English sentences, the verb chosen must agree with its subject in form and meaning. Learn simple rules about subject-verb agreement to help make your writing clearer and more accurate.
What is subject-verb agreement?
Subject-verb agreement means that a subject and its verb must be both singular or both plural:
- A singular subject takes a singular verb
- A plural subject takes a plural verb
In the following examples, first identify the subject and verb, then see if the verb agrees with the subject in being singular or plural.
1. John live in France.
2. John lives in France.
3. The arguments is sound and well supported.
4. The arguments are sound and well supported.
Sentence 2 is correct because the subject John (singular ‘he’) ‘agrees with’ the third person singular form of the verb to live - lives. Sentence 1 is incorrect because the subject is singular while the verb live is plural.
Similarly, Sentence 4 is correct and Sentence 3 incorrect because the subject arguments (plural ‘they’) requires the third person plural form of the verb to be - are.
Five rules about subject-verb agreement
In the examples below, the subject of each sentence is in bold. It can be useful to consider what pronoun could perform the same function as the subject; this is shown in brackets where applicable.
1. Singular subjects joined by the word and are generally plural.
Both the Art teacher and the students (They) enjoy a student-centered approach.
2. Indefinite pronouns (someone, anyone, no one, anybody, somebody, nobody, one, either, neither) usually take a singular verb.
No one likes to fail at university.
3. Nouns used with a quantifier (some, any, all, most) can be singular or plural. This depends on whether the noun is countable or uncountable.
Some of the policies (They) were rejected whilst others were approved. (policies = plural countable noun)
Some of the research (It) was conducted at the University of Melbourne. (research = uncountable noun)
4. After a subject joined by either … or, neither … nor, or not only … but also, the verb agrees with the subject nearest to it.
Neither the lecturer nor the students want to reschedule the class. (want agrees with students)
5. There is and there are agree with the noun that follows.
There is flexibility in this kind of management structure.
There are many advantages to this kind of management structure.
In your reading and writing, practise identifying the subject and verb of a sentence. If the subject is a singular or uncountable noun, then the verb must be singular. If the subject is plural, then the verb must be plural, too.
Most subject-verb agreement mistakes can be detected and fixed if you spend some time editing your writing with this focus in mind.
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