A firm grasp of the rules of subject verb agreement is essential for expressing yourself in the English language. When subjects and verbs do not agree it can confuse the listener or reader - did you mean to use a different tense? Or, perhaps a different subject?
Understanding Subject Verb Agreement
When discussing subject verb agreement, it's helpful to remember that a singular subject takes a singular verb and a plural subject takes a plural verb.
Here are some examples of proper subject verb agreement:
- The little boy plays in the sandbox.
- The mother loved all of her children.
- Happily sing the birds in the trees.
Notice in the last example that the inversion of the subject and verb causes the sentence to sound more poetic. However, the subject and verb still have to agree in number.
Here are two more special examples that show how careful you have to be in making the subject and verb agree:
- Each of the students writes a paragraph for homework.
In this example, you might argue that "students" does not match "writes." However, notice that "each" is the subject, which is what has to match the verb. Just because "students" is the noun closest to "writes," that does not mean that they are the noun and verb that have to match.
- Many of the girls wear pink dresses to prom.
In this example, "many" and "girls" are both plural, so you might have not made a mistake - but know that "many" and "wear" are the noun and verb that have to match.
For more examples, check out Examples of Subject Verb Agreement.
Exceptions to the Rules
There are a few exceptions to the subject verb agreement rules. For example:
- 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.
- Sums of money or periods of time require a singular verb.
- 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, all, none, and remainder require a singular verb only if the object of the preposition is singular.
- Who, that, and which are singular or plural according to the noun directly in front of them.
- Typically, you should use a plural verb with two or more subjects when they are connected by and.
- There and here are never considered to be subjects. In sentences beginning with here or there, the subject follows the verb.
- As well as and along with do not function the same as and. The phrase introduced by as well as or along with modifies the earlier word, but does not compound the subjects.
- If a sentence includes modifiers between the subject and verb, this does not affect whether the verb is singular or plural.
- Just because a word ends in -s does not automatically make it plural. Consider the word is as an example of this rule.
- A collective noun such as team or staff can be either singular or plural depending upon the rest of the sentence.
Test Your Knowledge
YourDictionary has created an online Quiz in Subject Verb Agreement to test your knowledge. If you're looking for more online quizzes, here are some helpful links:
- Grammar Bytes offers a 25 question quiz on subject verb agreement.
- City University of Seattle has a quiz with 22 questions. Select the correct answer from the pull down menu, then submit the quiz to receive your score.
- The Grammar Blue Book provides a challenging multiple choice quiz to measure your grasp of the rules governing subject verb agreement.
YourDictionary has also created a printable Subject Verb Agreement Worksheet to practice subject verb agreement.
If you are searching for more printable worksheets, these websites may be useful:
- Instructor Web has a lesson plan for teachers to use when teaching subject verb agreement to junior high and high school students. However, registration is required to gain access to all of the lesson materials.
- teAchnology offers a variety of printable worksheets for teachers who are discussing the correct use of verbs. Five of the worksheets deal exclusively with subject verb agreement.
- English Linx has several printable worksheets suitable for Grades K - 12 covering subject verb agreement.
Resources for ESL Learners
Those who are learning English as a second language often find it difficult to master the rules of subject verb agreement. If you're looking for resources to help ESL students learn more about subject verb agreement, YourDictionary recommends the following helpful links:
- ESL Printables has a basic worksheet for introducing new English speakers to the concept of subject verb agreement.
- Activities for ESL Students provides a simple online subject verb agreement quiz designed for those who are learning English as a second language.