Rules of Subject-Verb Agreement Simply Explained

You might think that subject-verb agreement would be pretty simple. However, it can get quite tricky depending on the complexity of the sentence. Learn the subject-verb agreement rules through several examples. Use a colorful printable to help them stick in your mind.

what is subject verb agreement example what is subject verb agreement example
Advertisement

What Is Subject-Verb Agreement?

If you are interested in subject-verb agreement, you've come to the right place. However, before diving headfirst into the rules, it's good to have a little explanation. The subject and verb within a sentence need to agree with each other in number in order for a sentence to make sense.

For example, if you use the plural subject they, you would use the plural are in the sentence, "They are fun." Additionally, if you use the singular she, you would use the singular is in the sentence, "She is fun." It wouldn't make sense to say "They is fun" or "She are fun" because those subjects and verbs don't agree.

What Are the Rules of Subject-Verb Agreement?

It might seem like subject-verb agreement has many rules, but you'll quickly notice that one ties into the next. In the end, it'll all make sense. To help clarify the examples of each rule, the subjects are in bold and verbs are in italics.

Rule 1. Number Agreement

Subjects and verbs must agree in number. This is the cornerstone rule that forms the background of the concept. And, only the subject affects the verb! Nothing else matters.

  • The dog growls when he is angry.
  • The dogs growl when they are angry.

Rule 2. Words Between Subject and Verb

Subordinate clauses and prepositional phrases that come between the subject and verb don't affect their agreement.

  • The dog, who is chewing on my jeans, is usually very good.
  • The colors of the rainbow are beautiful.

Rule 3. There or Here

When sentences start with "there" or "here," the subject will always be placed after the verb. Some care needs to be taken to identify each part correctly.

  • There is a problem with the balance sheet.
  • Here are the papers you requested.

Rule 4. Subject After Verb in Questions

Subjects don't always come before verbs in questions. Make sure you accurately identify the subject before deciding on the proper verb form to use.

  • Where are the pieces of this puzzle?
  • Where is the key I left on the desk?
Advertisement

Rule 5. Joined by And

If two subjects are joined by "and," they typically require a plural verb form.

  • The cow and the pig are jumping over the moon.
  • Billy and Jake are going to the movies.

Rule 6. Two Subjects Separated by And

The verb is singular if the two subjects separated by "and" refer to the same person or thing as a whole.

  • Red beans and rice is my mom's favorite dish.
  • Spaghetti and meatballs is a great meal.

Rule 7. Each, Every and No

If the word "each," "every" or "no" comes before the subject, the verb is singular.

  • No smoking or drinking is allowed.
  • Every man and woman is required to check in.

Rule 8. Multiple Subjects Connected With Conjunction

If the subjects are both singular and are connected by the words "or," "nor," "neither/nor," "either/or," or "not only/but also," the verb is singular. If the subjects are both plural and are connected by the words "or," "nor," "neither/nor," "either/or," or "not only/but also," the verb is plural.

  • Either Jessica or Christian is to blame for the accident
  • Not only dogs but also cats are available at the animal shelter.

Rule 9. Singular and Plural Subjects Connected by Conjunction

If one subject is singular and the other is plural and the words are connected by the words "or," "nor," "neither/nor," "either/or," or "not only/but also," use the verb form of the subject that is nearest the verb.

  • Either the bears or the lion has escaped from the zoo.
  • Neither the lion nor the bears have escaped from the zoo.
Advertisement

Rule 10. Units of Measure

The singular verb form is usually reserved for units of measurement or time.

  • Four quarts of oil was required to get the car running.
  • Ten minutes is enough time to get there.

Rule 11. Object of the Preposition

The only time the object of the preposition decides plural or singular verb forms is when noun and pronoun subjects like "some," "half," "none," "more," or "all" are followed by a prepositional phrase. Then the object of the preposition determines the form of the verb.

  • All of the chicken is gone.
  • All of the chickens are gone.

Rule 12. Infinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns typically take singular verbs. The exceptions to the rule include the pronouns "few," "many," "several," and "both." These always take the plural form.

  • Everybody wants to be loved.
  • Few were left alive after the flood.

Rule 13. Gerunds

When gerunds are used as the subject of a sentence, they take the singular form of the verb. However, when they are linked by "and," they take the plural form.

  • Standing in the water was a bad idea.
  • Swimming in the ocean and playing drums are my hobbies.

Rule 14. Collective Nouns

A collective noun, such as "team" or "staff," can be either singular or plural depending upon the rest of the sentence. Typically, they take the singular form, as the collective noun is treated as a cohesive single unit.

  • The herd is stampeding.
  • The flock is flying south.

Rule 15. Titles of Books

Titles of books, movies, novels, and other similar works are treated as singular and take a singular verb.

  • The Burbs is a movie starring Tom Hanks.
  • Gone With the Wind is my favorite movie of all time.
Advertisement

Subject-Verb Agreement Infographic

You can also download our shorter top 10 rules infographic and keep it handy. To see more sentences showing the correct subject and verb agreement, check out examples of subject-verb agreement.

subject verb agreement rules printable


View & Download PDF

Advertisement

Exceptions to the Rules

What would a grammar lesson be without a few exceptions to the rules? Let's review some of the most notable exceptions.

  • "Anyone," "everyone," "someone," "no one," and "nobody" always require singular verbs.
  • "Neither" and "either" require singular verbs even though they seem to be referring to two separate things.
  • When a sentence compounds a positive and a negative subject and only one is plural, the verb should agree with the positive subject.
  • Words that indicate portions of a whole, such as "percent," "fraction," "some," "none," and "remainder," require a singular verb only if the object of the preposition is singular.
  • "Who," "that," and "which" can be singular or plural, according to the noun directly in front of them.
  • The phrase introduced by "as well as" or "along with" modifies the earlier word but doesn't compound the subjects.
  • Modifiers between the subject and verb do not affect whether the verb is singular or plural.
  • Just because a word ends in -s doesn't automatically make it plural.

Improving Your Grammar

From the perspective of modern linguistics, the problem with grammar rules is that many of the rules aren't absolute. There are a wealth of exceptions to rules, as we can see here. It can prove helpful to bookmark condensed lists of rules like this. Truthfully, the best way to keep your grammar on point is to read, read and then read some more! In the meantime, have fun with these five tips to improve your grammar further.