Everyone has their own opinions, and you don’t always have to agree — unless you’re a subject or a verb. While subject-verb agreement may not bring world peace, it can lead to well-constructed sentences and clear writing. (And isn’t that pretty close to world peace, anyway?)
Subject-verb agreement means that you’re using singular verbs with singular nouns and plural verbs with plural nouns. The verbs then “agree” with the subject of the sentence, which can be a noun or a pronoun.
Examples of subject-verb agreement include:
- Mike plays the guitar.
(Mike is singular, plays is singular)
- My friends play the guitar.
(My friends is plural, play is plural)
- She laughs at everything.
(She is singular, laughs is singular)
- They laugh at everything.
(They is plural, laugh is plural)
Most times, you can tell if a sentence has proper subject-verb agreement by reading it out loud. “The children laughs at the clown” doesn’t sound correct to English speakers, so the subject-verb agreement error is easy to spot and fix.
However, there are specific subject-verb agreement rules to follow in case the answer isn’t obvious in a specific sentence.
Singular subjects, specifically third-person singular nouns and pronouns (he, she, it), get singular verbs. Everything else gets plural verbs.
- My dog growls when he is angry.
- My dogs growl when they are angry.
- She doesn’t like watermelon.
- They don’t like watermelon.
- He doesn’t like lobster. (Correct — he is singular)
- I doesn’t like lobster. (Incorrect — I uses a plural verb)
- I don’t like lobster. (Correct)
- She has a beautiful home. (Correct — she is singular)
- You has a beautiful home. (Incorrect — you uses a plural verb)
- You have a beautiful home. (Correct)
When phrases or clauses come between the subject and verb, don’t make the last word of the phrase agree with the verb. Find the actual subject of the sentence (which might be far from the verb) to follow subject-verb agreement.
- People who live in Wisconsin are used to cold weather.
(The subject is people, not Wisconsin)
- The colors of the rainbow are beautiful.
(The subject is colors, not rainbow)
Treat compound subjects as plural nouns, and use plural verbs for subject-verb agreement.
- The cow and the pig make a lot of noise.
- Billy and Jake go to the same school.
If singular subjects are connected by the conjunctions or, neither/nor, or either/or, the verb is singular. (Try to remove one subject and see if the verb still works.)
- A hamburger or a hot dog sounds great for lunch.
- Either Jessica or Christian drives a Toyota.
- Neither my mom nor my dad wants to go to the movies.
If subjects connected by or, neither/nor, or either/or are both plural, the verb is also plural. (Same rule as above — remove one subject and see if it works.)
- Spiders or cockroaches live under the house.
- Either my sisters or my cousins bring soda to the party.
- Neither our team nor our rival team like to play in the rain.
When compound subjects joined by or, neither/nor, or either/or have both a singular and a plural noun, use the verb form of the second subject — the one that is closest to the verb.
- Either my friends or my mom drives me to school.
- Either my mom or my friends drive me to school.
If the singular determiner each or every comes before the subject, the verb is singular.
- Every employee arrives on time.
- Each cat meows in a different way.
Most indefinite pronouns use singular verbs, including pronouns that end in -one, -body, and -thing.
- Everything feels better after a good conversation.
- Nobody understands how I feel.
- Anyone is welcome at the carnival.
However, plural indefinite pronouns (including few, many, and several) also must agree with these verbs, so use plural verbs when using these pronouns.
- Few know the truth of the hidden treasure.
- Many choose a different career path than their parents.
- Several request help with the new computer system.
In American English, collective nouns (such as team or family) are treated as singular nouns, so they require singular verbs.
- The herd heads south to find more water.
- My basketball team needs to find a new place to practice.
When the subject is a unit of measurement, use singular verbs (since units of measurement are considered collective nouns).
- Four quarts of milk costs twelve dollars.
- Ten minutes is enough time to get there.
When gerunds (-ing words that function as nouns) or gerund phrases act as the subject of a sentence, they take the singular form of the verb. If more than one gerund appears as the subject, treat it like a compound subject.
- Studying with friends helps me prepare for the test.
- Swimming in the ocean and playing drums are my hobbies.
Titles of books, movies, novels, and other similar works are treated as singular and take a singular verb — even when the last word of the title is plural.
- The Hunger Games is my favorite book.
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first full-length animated movie.
When sentences start with here or there (known as dummy subjects), the subject comes after the verb. Don’t match the verb with here or there in these cases; find the word that here or there refers to when choosing a verb form.
- There is a problem with the balance sheet.
(Problem is the singular subject)
- Here are the papers you requested.
(The papers is the plural subject)
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?