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Subject-verb agreement explained (With examples)

Subject-verb agreement explained (With examples)

Imagine this, for homework, your child is tasked to write a story.

And in order to write a good one, the main character (subject) and the actions they do (verb) should always match up. If the character is just one person or thing, the action word should be alone too, like ‘she jumps’. But if there's more than one character, the action word needs company, like ‘they jump’. This teamwork between subjects and verbs is what makes your sentences work.

In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at subject-verb agreement through a variety of examples so as to help your child develop a stronger grasp of the topic.

What’s Subject-Verb Agreement?

Let’s start with the definition: What’s subject-verb agreement?

Subject-verb agreement is a grammatical rule that states the words for the action (the verb) in a sentence should match the number of the person or thing doing the action (the subject).

In other words, if the subject of a sentence is singular, the verb that accompanies it should also be in singular form. Likewise, if the subject is plural, the verb should be in plural form. By adhering to the subject-verb agreement, you’re able to clearly show who or what is carrying out the action.

Verb Singular Subject + Verb Plural Subject + Verb
Eat The lion eats meat. The lions eat meat.
Read The child reads for fun. The children read for fun.
Hop The kangaroo hops over the fence. The kangaroos hop over the fence.
Cut The worker cuts open the boxes. The workers cut open the boxes.
Knock The policeman knocks on the door. The policemen knock on the door.

While subject-verb agreement is easy in short sentences, the challenge arises when you’re faced with longer and more complex sentences.

Let’s walk through a few of them together, shall we?

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Compound Subjects

Compound subjects are when two or more subjects are linked to one verb. They’re connected by words such as ‘and,’ ‘or,’ or ‘nor’. When deciding whether to use a singular or plural verb, we need to consider how the subjects are connected. 

Compound Subject with ‘and’
Tom and Jane are going to the movies tonight. 

When subjects (#1 Tom & #2 Jane) are connected by and, use a plural verb.

Compound Subject with ‘or’
Either the cookie or the cake is going to be dessert.
Either the cookies or cakes are going to be dessert.

Compound Subject with ‘nor’
Neither the bookcase nor the table belongs in the living room.
Neither the bookcases nor the tables belong in the living room.

However, If the compound subject comprises both singular and plural nouns, the verb takes the form of the closest subject.

Eg. Either the cake or the cookies are going to be dessert.
Eg. Neither the bookcases nor the table belongs in the living room.

When Subjects Are Separated From Verbs

When subjects are separated from verbs in a sentence, it can often cause confusion that leads to agreement mistakes. Therefore, be sure to pay close attention to subject-verb agreement when the subject and the verb are not placed together.

Correct Wrong
Reviewers (plural subject) of the movie highlight (plural verb) its flaws. Reviewers (plural subject) of the movie highlights (singular verb) its flaws.
A pile (singular subject) of leaves was (singular verb) on the lawn. A pile (singular subject) of leaves were (plural verb) on the lawn.
Ten PhD students (plural subjects), each of whom is an expert in their field and a thought leader in the discussion, are (plural verb) participating in the convention Ten PhD students (plural subject), each of whom is an expert in their field and a thought leader in the discussion, is (singular verb) participating in the convention.

When Subjects Come After The Verb

Sometimes, you’ll encounter sentences where the subject follows the verb. Due to the sentence structure, identifying the true subject in these sentences - especially if they’re long - can be difficult. So be sure to double-check your subject-verb agreement to ensure they match. These sentences often begin with has, have, there, here, is, are, was, were, and so on.

Eg, There are [verb] many upcoming projects [subject] in the pipeline.
Eg. Has [verb] David [subject] been behaving [verb] himself today?

Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns are words used to refer to people, places, things, or ideas in a general or non-specific way. They don't point to specific nouns but rather give a broader sense of the subject. In most cases, indefinite pronouns are to be treated as singular subjects.

However, there are always exceptions, and those specific pronouns are always treated as plural. Adding to the complexity, depending on how they are used, some indefinite pronouns can be treated as either singular or plural. Examples of indefinite pronouns include someone, anything, everybody, nothing, many, and few.

Rule Indefinite pronouns Examples
Always singular Pronouns that end in:
-thing, -where, -body or -one, -every, -one, -each, another, and so on.
  • Everyone shouts from the stand.
  • Each of the attendees arrives promptly.
  • Something flashes across the screen
Always plural Many, few, several, both, others.
  • Both students are right
  • Few know what the answer is
Either singular or plural None, all, some, more, most, either, any.
  • All of the cakes are gone
  • All of the cake is gone


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