Subject-verb agreement is an important part of English grammar. The concept of subject-verb agreement is simple, but complex sentences can cause confusion. We will examine the definition of subject-verb agreement, some rules that will help you construct sentences in English correctly and some examples.
Subject-verb agreement means that the subject and the verb, known as the predicate verb, in a sentence must agree in number. If the subject is plural, the predicate verb must also be plural. It sounds simple, but many twists in sentence construction can cause confusion. Here are some rules with examples that will help you to distinguish subject-verb agreement.
Clauses and phrases
The subject of the sentence must agree with the predicate verb. This can get confusing when a clause or phrase appears between the subject and the predicate verb:
The dogs that terrorized the neighborhood were quarantined.
Note the phrase that terrorized the neighborhood is inserted between the subject, dogs, and the predicate verb, were quarantined. The phrase contains a noun and a verb, neighborhood and terrorized, but they are not the subject or predicate of the sentence. If you are confused, take out the phrase in order to check the subject-verb agreement:
The dogs were quarantined.
Identify whether a subject pronoun is singular or plural
In most instances, whether a pronoun is singular or plural is apparent; however, indefinite pronouns such as some, none, any, all or most are a little trickier. If one of these indefinite pronouns is used with a countable noun, then it is considered plural and the predicate verb must be plural:
Some of the acorns fall on the driveway.
If the indefinite pronoun is associated with an uncountable noun, then it is considered singular and the predicate verb must be singular:
Some of the fog rolls into the valley.
Identify whether a collective noun should be treated as a singular or plural
In most cases, a collective noun is single unit of something, and so it is treated as a singular noun and the predicate verb must be rendered as a singular verb:
The army is ready for battle.
However, if the individual members of a group are emphasized in the sentence, then the collective noun is treated as a plural noun and the predicate verb must agree:
The partners are going their separate ways.
My family are lawyers, doctors, and ministers.
A conjunction connecting a compound subject:
A compound subject consists of two or more nouns. If the nouns are separated by the conjunction or, the subject is considered to be singular and the predicate verb must also be singular:
Mutt or Jeff walks the dog on Tuesdays.
If the nouns are separated by the conjunction and, the subject is considered to be plural and the predicate verb must also be plural:
Mutt and Jeff walk the dog on Tuesdays.
The exception to this rule is a situation in which the subject uses the word and but is actually a single subject, which means that the predicate verb must also be singular:
Mutt and Jeff is a comic strip that was popular during the Depression.
Assault and battery is a serious crime.
Compound subjects with singular and plural nouns
Sometimes compound subjects are composed of singular and plural nouns. This is not a problem when the conjunction is the word and, but if the conjunction is the word or, the predicate verb should agree with the noun that is closest in proximity to the verb.
The teacher or the students eat lunch at noon.
The students or the teacher eats lunch at noon.
Sentences that begin with the words here or there
In sentences that begin with the words here or there, the subject appears after the predicate verb.
Here are your car keys. (Keys is the subject and is plural.)
There goes the neighborhood. (Neighborhood is the subject and is singular.)
Titles of books, movies, poems, etc.
Titles are treated as singular subjects, even if the title is a plural noun:
Les Miserables is my favorite movie.
Measurements such as time, distance, amounts, etc., that are considered a single unit are treated as a singular subject:
Ten miles is a long way to travel for a cheeseburger.
Fifteen dollars was laying there, right on the table.
Subject-verb agreement can be tricky, but learning to identify the subject and predicate verb of a sentence is the best place to start.