Grammar

Subject-Verb Agreement: Why Does It Matter?

Do you have difficulty with the subject-verb agreement? Let the English Forward team help you sort it out.

Matthew Hamel Written by Matthew Hamel · 3 min read >
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One of the most common English grammar errors involves subject-verb agreement. Subject-verb agreement errors can sometimes be difficult to find, especially in written and spoken sentences that sound correct. Sub verb agreement needs to happen in every correct English sentence, otherwise, the sentence is incorrect. So, how do you know if the subject-verb agreements are correct? The following subject-verb agreement examples will help you better understand how the verb agrees with the subject.

What is subject-verb agreement?

The first rule to remember is that a singular subject goes with a singular verb and plural subjects go with plural verbs. This is important so that the singular or plural verb agrees with a singular or plural subject. A verb with s is usually plural as in runs, swims, carries, etc.

To better understand how the subject follows the verb or how more than one subject follows the verb let’s look at a few examples.

Sarah, as well as her sisters, are going to the summer school.

  • Sarah is the singular subject
  • Going to is the singular subject verb (to be form)
  • Sarah and going to are singular, so this sentence shows subject verb agreement

While this sentence may sound right, the subject verb agreement is incorrect. It should read:

Sarah, as well as her sisters, is going to the summer school.

In this sentence the singular subject is Sarah, so the verb should be the singular verb is. The confusion comes from the interrupting phrase, as well as her sisters, which makes the subject sound like a plural subject. The best method to spot this mistake is to simply remove the phrase between the commas. Remember, do not use a plural verb in a sentence with a singular subject and always use a singular verb with a singular subject.

That leaves Sarah is going to the summer school. This sounds a lot better than Sarah are going to the summer school. Here are a few more examples of singular or plural verbs and subjects with interrupting phrases.

Tomi, who is my friend, is going to the movies next week.

  • Tomi is the singular subject and is going is the singular verb.

The girls, who are aged from sixteen to twenty, will join the tournament next week.

  • The girls are the plural subjects and join is the plural verb.

My new cat, who I just found last week, is already gaining weight.

  • My new cat is the singular subject and gaining is the singular verb.

Is/Are Grammar Rules

Use is in sentences with a singular subject and use are in a sentence with a plural subject.

Is this singular or plural?

Not all subject-verb agreement errors are so difficult to find. If the subject is singular, then the verb that follows must also be singular. Verbs with s are usually plural verbs and collective nouns also take a plural s. For instance:

A herd of deer and a flock of birds crowded the road.

  • A herd of deer and a flock of birds are the collective nouns and the plural verb is crowded.

The committee meets on Tuesdays.

  • The committee is the compound noun, or plural subject, and meets is the plural verb.

Sometimes the verbs and subjects are easy to spot. In the following sentences, notice how the verbs and subjects agree.

  • Everyone needs to wash their hands before dinner.
  • The can of corn sat on the shelf.
  • The softball team will leave on the last bus.
  • The information was collected by the principal.

The most important rule to impart to students when teaching subject-verb or verb subject agreement is that singular subjects require singular verbs and plural subjects require plural verbs. To improve your English ability in this area, you can take a subject verb agreement quiz or do a subject verb agreement worksheet.

Compound subjects, or two subjects in the same sentence, will often have a plural verb, but sometimes is singular treated as singular in commonly spoken English if the compound subjects refer to the same person or thing. The following sentences show compound subjects with correct subject verb agreement:

  • Rice and curry are required for the dish.
  • Neither your aunt nor my sisters know how to fish.
  • Pickles and onions are great on a sandwich.
  • Tuna and lettuce is a common meal in Korea.
  • The creator and producer is arriving soon. (both refer to same person)

If or or nor is used in a compound subject where there is both a singular and plural subject, the verb pairs with the subject nearest to the verb. Below is a list of compound subjects using or, neither-nor, or either-or include:

  • My grandma or grandpa is coming to the soccer game. (Grandpa is singular, so the verb is the singular is)
  • Neither blue nor red is my favorite color of car. (Red is singular, so the verb is singular)
  • Either mom or my aunts are going to the restaurant. (Aunts is a plural subject and it’s closing to the verb are)
  • Neither she nor I am going to take the train back to school.

Singular Indefinite Pronouns

It’s also important to know subject-verb agreement sentences with singular indefinite pronouns. Below is a list of some examples.

  • Each gets a medal for participation.
  • Somebody will buy my used bike.
  • Anybody is more prepared for camping than you.
  • Something is going very well today.
  • Everybody needs a to have a good time sometimes.
  • Nothing will be decided before Friday.

Plural Indefinite Pronouns

Subject verb agreement with plural indefinite pronouns are also important to understand. Below are a few examples of these types of sentences.

  • Both are ready to leave on the trip soon.
  • Many went to the concert but couldn’t hear the music.
  • Few know how to survive if lost in the woods.
  • Several are travelling to the venue by bus or train.
  • Some salt is required for the recipe.
  • Most of the snacks were eaten by the young kids before the play.

Remember, when the subject is singular, use a singular verb and when the subject is plural, use a plural verb. If you remember this simple rule, it will be easy for you to both spot and avoid subject verb agreement errors.

Written by Matthew Hamel
Matt has spent over a decade in international and ESL education both as a teacher and instructional designer. In addition to classroom and online teaching experience, Matt has written hundreds of lessons and articles about English with an emphasis on ESL learners. Profile
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