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.
Rules of Subject-Verb Agreement Simply Explained
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 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?
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.
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 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.
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.