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subject-verb agreement

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subject-verb agreement

The basic principles of subject-verb agreement

Definition:

The correspondence of a verb with its subject in person (first, second, or third) and number (singular or plural).

The principle of subject-verb agreement applies to finite verbs in the present tense and, in a limited way, to the past forms of the verb to be (was and were).

See also:

Subject-Verb Agreement Exercises and Quizzes

Examples and Observations:

  • "A singular subject needs a singular verb, and a plural subject needs a plural verb. (Reminder: The verb is the action word in the sentence. The subject is who or what does the action. . . .)
    The girl [singular subject] reads [singular verb] mystery stories.
    The girls [plural subject] read [plural verb] mystery stories.
    Tonya [singular subject] is [singular verb] asleep.
    Tonya and her friends [plural subject] are [plural verb] asleep."
    (Rebecca Elliott, Painless Grammar, 2nd ed. Barron's, 2006)


  • Agreement When Prepositional Phrases Come Between the Subject and the Verb
    "A prepositional phrase cannot contain the subject of the sentence. Do not be confused when a prepositional phrase (a phrase that begins with of, in, between, and so on) comes between the subject and the verb. In such cases, the object of the preposition appears to be the subject of the sentence when really it is not. This error can lead to an incorrect verb choice, as in the three incorrect sentences below.
    Incorrect
    High levels of mercury occurs in some fish.
    Correct
    High levels of mercury occur in some fish.

    Incorrect
    Water in the fuel lines cause an engine to stall.
    Correct
    Water in the fuel lines causes an engine to stall.

    Incorrect
    Food between the teeth result in decay.
    Correct
    Food between the teeth results in decay."
    (Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell, Writing First with Readings: Practice in Context, 3rd ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2006)


  • Notes on Subject-Verb Agreement
    "Expressions indicating quantity or amount to be considered as a unit require a singular verb. These expressions often refer to amounts of money, units of time, or measurements:
    Five dollars is the price of that shirt.
    Two hundred yards is a long way to crawl.
    "Nouns plural in form but singular in meaning require a singular verb:
    Mumps is very uncommon in the United States today.
    "A verb is never affected by a subject complement:
    The gift he gave his friend was books.
    (Books is the subject complement.)"
    (Gordon Loberger and Kate Shoup, Webster's New World English Grammar Handbook, 2nd ed. Wiley, 2009)


  • Agreement With Compound Subjects Joined by And
    "Compound subjects are composed of several nouns or pronouns connected by and, or, either-or, or neither-nor. Subjects connected by and almost always form a plural subject and demand a plural verb.
    Dogs and cats love to have their ears scratched.
    Cream cheese and tomato are delicious on a bagel.
    There are two exceptions to this rule. The first occurs when a seemingly compound and plural subject comes to be regarded as singular through popular usage:
    Bacon and eggs is my favorite breakfast.
    Corned beef and cabbage is an Irish tradition.
    The other exception occurs when subjects connected by and describe a single person or thing:
    The creator and champion of the sport is injured.
    The cause and solution to our problems is this.
    In the first sentence, the words creator and champion refer to a single person, so the verb is singular. In the second sentence, the words cause and solution refer to a single object or issue. The verb must also be singular."
    (Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas, The Grammar Bible. Owl Books, 2004)


  • Agreement With Coordinated Noun Phrases
    "If the subject contains coordinated noun phrases, the agreement is usually with the second noun phrase when the two phrases differ in number:
    Either Fred or his his cousins are going.
    Either my aunts or my mother is going."
    (Ronald Wardhaugh, Understanding English Grammar: A Linguistic Approach, 2nd ed. Blackwell, 2003)


  • Agreement With Collective Nouns and Indefinite Pronouns
    "Nouns such as family, choir, team, majority, minority--any noun that names a group of individual members--can be treated as either singular or plural, depending on context and meaning:
    The family have all gone their separate ways.
    The whole family is celebrating the holidays at home this year.
    The majority of our city council members are Republicans.
    The majority always rules.
    Other singular-in-form nouns, such as remainder, rest, and number, also have a plural meaning in certain contexts; their number depends on their modifiers:
    The remainder of the job applicants are waiting outside.
    The rest of the books are being donated to the library.
    A number of customers have come early.
    This system also applies to certain indefinite pronouns, such as some, all, and enough:
    Some of the books were missing.
    All of the cookies were eaten.
    Notice what happens to the verb in such sentences when the modifier of the subject headword is singular:
    The rest of the map was found.
    Some of the water is polluted.
    All of the cake was eaten.
    The remainder of this chapter is especially important."
    (Martha Kolln and Robert Funk, Understanding English Grammar, 5th ed. Allyn & Bacon, 1998)


  • Agreement When the Subject Follows the Verb
    "In most sentences, the subject comes before the verb. However, in some cases, the subject follows the verb, and subject-verb agreement needs special attention. Study the following examples:
    Over the building flies a solitary flag. (flag flies)
    Over the building fly several flags. (flags fly)
    There is a good reason for that deadline. (reason is)
    There are good reasons for that deadline. (reasons are)"
    (Paige Wilson and Teresa Ferster Glazier, The Least You Should Know about English, Form A: Writing Skills, 11th ed. Wadsworth, 2012)
Also Known As: subject-verb concord
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