This has been a very frequently testing block of grammar. It is the fundamental ground for making an accurate sentence in English.
What is Subject and verb agreement?
In order to understand the subject and verb agreement, you must know the structure of a sentence in English.
Structure of a sentence: subject + finite verb
Every sentence has two essential parts namely a subject and a finite verb. Therefore lets understand these two terms clearly.
Subject: It is the part about which the sentence says something. It is either a noun or a noun equivalent.
Finite Verb: It is the part which says something about the subject. It is the verb that shows the tense of the sentence and agrees with the subject in number and person.
1. I am a writer (I = subject; am = finite verb)
2. You are a reader (You = subject; are = finite verb)
3. She sells vegetables (She = subject; sells = finite verb)
4. They buy vegetables (They = subject; buy = finite verb)
5. The flower has bloomed (Flower = subject; has bloomed = finite verb)
6. The flowers have bloomed (flowers = subject; have bloomed = finite verb)
If you observe the above examples closely, you can understand that any other form (i.e. other than the used one) of the verb is wrong to replace. That is what we call subject and verb agreement. It means using the appropriate verb form to the subject. It has been one of the most frequently asked questions. Therefore, let’s dig deep into subject and verb agreement questions and error possible areas of it.
Note: Throughout the rules below the verb means Finite Verb.
Rule 1: A singular subject demands a singular verb; Plural subject takes a plural verb.
Note: The trick is in knowing whether the subject is singular or plural. The next trick is recognizing a singular or plural verb.
Hint: Verbs do not form their plurals by adding an 's' as nouns do. In order to determine which verb is singular and which one is plural, think of which verb you would use with ‘he or she’ and which verb you would use with ‘they’.
Example: talks, talk
Which one is the singular form? Which word would you use with he? We say, "He talks." Therefore, talks is singular. We say, "They talk." Therefore, talk is plural.
1. The bridge opens every hour
Subject Finite Verb
2. The bridges open every hour
3. The athletes are active
4. The athlete is nervous
5. The hawk soars
6. The hawks swoop down
* Observe the matching of singular and plural verbs with their subjects.
Rule 2: Two singular subjects connected by or (or) nor require a singular verb.
e.g. : According to the letter I have received, my aunt or uncle is arriving by train today.
Rule 3: Two singular subjects connected by either/ or or neither/ nor require a singular verb.
e.g. : Neither Yamuna nor her brother is available at the house .
Either Kiran or Karan is helping today with stage decorations.
Rule 4: When ‘I’ is one of the two subjects connected by either/or or neither/nor, put it second and follow it with the singular verb am.
Example: Neither she nor I am going to take up the next project.
Rule 5: When a singular subject is connected by ‘or’ or ‘nor’ to a plural subject, put the plural subject last and use a plural verb.
Example: The serving bowl or the plates go on that shelf.
Rule 6: When a singular and plural subject are connected by either/or or neither/nor, put the plural subject last and use a plural verb.
Example: Neither Janaki nor the others are at the theatre right now.
Rule 7: As a general rule, use a plural verb with two or more subjects when they are connected by ‘and’.
Example: A car and a bike are primarily used as means of transportation
Rule 8: When subjects are combined by linkers such as together with, along with, besides, with, in addition to, as well as, etc… the verb agrees with the earlier subject.
(It means if the earlier subject is singular the verb should be singular and if the subject is plural the verb should be plural)
e.g: 1) The general (sub 1) along with the soldiers (sub 2) was (V) away from the operation.
Here the earlier subject is ‘the general’ which is singular and so the verb ‘was’ (singular) is used.
2) The supervisors (Sub 1) as well as the captain (Sub 2) have taken (V) an important decision.
‘The supervisors’ is plural so ‘have taken’ is the right form of the verb.
Excitement (sub 1), in addition to nervousness (2), is the cause of her shaking.
The politician (sub1), together with the newsmen (2), is expected shortly.
Rule 9: The pronouns such as—
Everyone every body everything
Someone some body something
No one no body nothing
None each every
One neither either……
Need Special care. These feel plural but they are always singular and so they take singular verb. Do not be misled by what follows of.
Examples: Everybody (S) is (V) entitled to one month’s salary as bonus
Nobody (S) Knows (V) what the future has in store for him/ her
None (S) wants (V) a change in the working hours.
One(S) doesn’t like(V) to have one’s words doubted.
Neither of the resolutions (S) moved by him was (V) passed.
Singular indefinite pronouns take singular verbs or singular personal pronouns.
Correct: Each of the members has one vote.
(The subject, each, is singular. Use has.)
Incorrect: One of the girls gave up their seat.
Correct: One of the girls gave up her seat.
(Her refers to one, which is singular.)
Plural indefinite pronouns take plural verbs or plural personal pronouns.
Correct: A few of the justices were voicing their opposition.
(Few is plural, so are were and their.)
For indefinite pronouns that can be singular or plural, it depends on what the indefinite pronoun refers to.
Correct: All of the people clapped their hands.
(All refers to people, which is plural.)
Correct: All of the newspaper was soaked.
(Here all refers to newspaper, which is singular.)
Examples: Each of the girls sings well.
Every one of the cakes is gone.
A Gender-Sensitive Case
The pronouns ending with -body or - one such as anybody, somebody, no one, or anyone are singular. So are pronouns like each and every. Words like all or some may be singular. That means that a possessive pronoun referring to these singular words must also be singular. In standard written English the possessive pronoun his is used to refer to a singular indefinite pronoun unless the group referred to is known to be all female.
Incorrect: Is everyone happy with their gift?
Correct: Is everyone happy with his gift?
(Everyone and is are singular. The possessive pronoun must be singular, too)
Most languages, including English, observe the standard of using the masculine pronoun in situations like this. However, in some circles today the idea of choosing the masculine pronoun sounds discriminatory against women. If this usage bothers you, or if you think it may bother your audience, there are two possible ways to work around this and still use standard English.
1. Use the phrase his or her. It is a little awkward, but OK.
Correct: Is everyone happy with his or her gift?
2. Rewrite the sentence using a plural pronoun or antecedent. Plural personal pronouns in English no longer distinguish between masculine and feminine.
Correct: Are all the people happy with their gifts?
Rule 10: When two nouns refer to a single entity the verb is singular.
e.g: The lyricist and singer (S) has entertained (V) the audience well.
Here the lyricist and singer is one and the same person. Therefore, it takes a singular verb. In general, the subject is considered plural if there are two different articles before those nouns.
e.g: The lyricist and the singer have entertained the audience well.
Note: Article ‘The’ is repeated before two nouns – Lyricist and Singer.
Observe the following carefully.
The President (S1) and Secretary (S2) of the organization was (V) misinformed.
The President (S1) and the Secretary (S2) of the organization were (V) misinformed.
Rule 11: When two subjects are combined by either…..or…,/neither…..nor……the verb agrees with the nearer (closer) subject. (It means if the subject closer to the verb is singular the verb must be singular and the verb is plural if that subject is plural)
e.g: 1) Either you or he(S) has (V) to finish the work
2) Either he or you(S) have (V) to finish the work.
3) Neither the chairperson nor the members(S) have turned (V) up for the meeting.
4) Neither the members nor the chairperson(S) has turned (V) up for the meeting.
Beware of the following areas:
A) The distraction between the subject and the verb.
e.g.: 1) The study (S) of language origin and its changes is (V) known as the science of linguistics. Here the original subject is ‘Study’ and its verb is ‘is’ the matter between the subject and verb distracts the test taker’s mind. The ending of the distracter or preceding part of the verb is plural and so it may cause confusion. So take care of the distracters.
2) The scales (S) on the body of the fish help (V) to protect
3) The effects (S) of cigarette smoking are known (V) to be quite harmful.
B) The number of – A number of :
‘The number of’ is a way to describe an ‘amount’ or ‘quantity’ so it is singular.
A number of means ‘many’ so it is plural.
e.g.: 1) The number (S) of delegates attending the conference is (V) hundred.
2) A number(S) of delegates have arrived(V) for attending the conference.
C) Decimals and fractions.
When there are fractions or decimals the verb agrees with the noun not with the decimals or fractions.
e.g.: 1) Two fifths of the grain(S) is (V) out of use.
2) One thirds of the Students(S) were (V) convinced that there would be no final exams.
3) The majority of the students have got first classes.
4) The majority of the population in India is the Hindus.
D) The collective nouns: Though a collective noun is the collection of many items, it is considered singular so it takes a singular verb.
e.g. 1) A hand (S) of bananas has been sent (V) to the retailer in compensation for the damaged one.
2) The Newly bought flock(S) of sheep was (V) kept in the enclosure.
E) Noun endings: Many of us get confused by looking at the endings of nouns. Some nouns end in‘s’ and other don’t. The general belief is that if a noun ends with‘s’ it is a plural noun and it is singular if there is no ‘s’ at the end.
Contrary to this belief some singulars end with ‘s’ and some plurals do not have ‘s’ at the end. Therefore, you are advised to be careful about such kind of irregular forms of nouns.
e.g.: 1. Physics(S) is (V) considered a difficult subject for many students.
2. Cattle(S) are (V) grazing in the neighbour’s field.
F) With words that indicate portions:
With words that indicate portions-percent, fraction, part, majority, some, all, none, remainder, and so forth, the noun with of phrase decides the verb. In other words look at the noun with of phrase to determine whether to use a singular or plural verb.
I. If the object of the preposition is singular, use a singular verb.
II. If the object of the preposition is plural, use a plural verb.
Examples: 1. Fifty percent of the cloth has disappeared. (‘Cloth’ is the object of the preposition of)
2. One-third of the city is unemployed.
3. One-third of the people are unemployed.
4. None of the garbage was picked up.
5. None of the sentences were punctuated correctly.
6. Of all her books, none have sold as well as the first one.