English Grammar: Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-Verb Agreement

Last Updated on Nov 11, 2020

Although you are probably already familiar with basic subject-verb agreement, this discussion begins with a quick review of basic agreement rules.

The subject and verb must agree in number. Singular subjects need singular verbs; plural subjects need plural verbs.

For example:
My brother is a nutritionist.
My sisters are mathematicians.

Problems occur in the present tense because one must add an -s or -es at the end of the verb when the subjects or the entity performing the action is a singular third person: he, she, it, or words for which these pronouns could substitute. These agreement rules do not apply to verbs used in the simple past tense without any helping verbs.

In order to find out if your subject and verb agree, you need to be able to identify the subject of your sentence. Here are some helpful hints that will help you to decipher where your subject is and where it is not.

Where is the subject?

  1. Most likely, your verb will agree with the first noun to the left of the verb:
    For example: The Supreme Court judge decides the appropriate penalty.
    Subject: judge     |    Verb: decides
  2. You will not find the subject in a modifying phrase (MP), a phrase that starts with a preposition, a gerund, or a relative pronoun and that modifies the meaning of the noun or subject under discussion.
    For example : The group of students is going on a field trip.
    Subject: the group      |  MP: of students     |   Verb: is
  3. If subjects are joined by and, they are considered plural.
    For example: The quarterback and the coach are having a conference.
    Subject: the quarterback and the coach   |   Verb: are having
  4. Occasionally, a sentence has the subject after the verb instead of before it. This strategy is often used for poetic effect.
    For example: Over the ripples glides a small canoe.
    Subject: a small canoe   |   Verb: glides
  5. If subjects are joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the closer subject.
    For example: Either the actors or the director is at fault.
    Subjects: actors, director    |    Verb: is
  6. Indefinite pronouns (someone, somebody, each, either one, everyone, or anyone) are considered singular and need singular verbs although they convey plural meaning.
    For example: Anyone who wants to pursue higher education has to pass entrance exams.
    Subject: anyone     |    Verbs: wants, has
  7. A few subjects look plural but are really singular or vice versa.
    For example : The news of the discovery is spreading.
    Subject: news    |    Verb: is

Subject Verb Agreement Rules:

  1. 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.
    For example: Where are the pieces of this puzzle?
  2. Prepositional phrases between the subject and verb usually do not affect agreement.
    For example: The colors of the rainbow are beautiful.
  3. Collective nouns like “herd,” “senate,” “class,” and “crowd,” usually take a singular verb form.
    For example: The herd is stampeding.
  4. Remember, only the subject affects the verb!

Quiz on Subject and Verb Agreement


In this blog post, we have explained Subject-Verb Agreement in a very simple way by giving common examples. Also, some important rules are mentioned which should be followed..
Check here in the links below for more posts related to English.
Gerunds, Infinitives & Participles
English Preparation

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