Subject-verb agreement is one of the most important concepts of the English language, and it is essential to make sure a sentence makes sense in terms of grammar. However, it is also one of the most common errors everyone make. (Whoops, I meant everyone makes!) Subject-verb agreement means the subject and the verb in a sentence must agree with each other in number and in person. In other words, the subject and the verb both must be singular or plural.
It is pretty simple to spot singular and plural subjects, which are also nouns. Most plural nouns end in an s.
- vehicle (singular)
- vehicles (plural)
But for verbs, adding an s doesn’t make them plural.
Well, how can you tell which one is singular or plural?
- If the subject is singular and in third person, add an s to the base form of the verb. Examples:
- The doctor recommends exercising at least 30 minutes a day.
- It looks like it is going to snow.
- If the subject is singular and in first/second person, use the base form of the verb. Examples:
- I make my own decisions.
- You drive the van.
- If the subject is plural, use the base form of the verb. Examples:
- We play soccer in the backyard.
- They eat dinner at a restaurant.
However, it is not always easy to see how many subjects are used in a sentence. Consider these two sentences:
- The birthday boy, as well as his friends, is excited to go to the carnival.
- The birthday boy and his friends are excited to go to the carnival.
In the first sentence, the phrase “as well as his friends” is not part of the subject, so a singular verb is used. In the second sentence, “the birthday boy and his friends” has two subjects, so a plural verb is used. Here’s another example:
- The bouquet of roses smells pleasant.
- The books on the bookshelf are gathering dust.
Similar to the examples shown previously, the verb agrees with the first subject, not with the noun that is in between the first subject and the verb.
Are there exceptions to the rule?
Of course! Different subjects can carry different meanings in certain cases, which can change the verb as singular or plural. Let’s take a look at several examples.
- The doctor and scientist creates an effective cure for cancer.
- Texting and driving has dangerous consequences.
In the first sentence, “the doctor and scientist” are the same person, so a singular verb is used. In the second sentence, “texting and driving” is a single activity, so a singular verb is used. These nouns are considered compound subjects. Some more examples:
- Neither I nor my friends are going to the party.
- Either my relatives or my family is meeting at the airport.
In this case, the verb agrees with the subject closest to it when using or or nor.
- Everybody was shocked to discover the truth.
- Even though many apply to Harvard, very few are accepted.
The noun “everybody” in the first sentence is a singular noun, so a singular verb is used. The nouns “many” and “few” in the second sentence are considered to be plural nouns however, so plural verbs are used.
- Lunsford, Andrea A., Paul Kei. Matsuda, and Christine M. Tardy. Easywriter. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014. Print.
- “Subject Verb Agreement Definition, Examples.” Reading Worksheets Spelling Grammar Comprehension Lesson Plans. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2016.
- “Subject-Verb Agreement.” Grammar and Punctuation. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2016.