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15.13: Subject-Verb Agreement

  • Page ID
    225972
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    What are they?

    In the present tense verbs must agree with their subjects: both must be singular, or both must be plural.

    I breathe the air. He breathes the air.

    You breathe the air. She breathes the air.

    They breathe the air. It breathes the air.

    You must add an –s or –es at the end of the verb when the subject (or the entity performing the action) is a singular third person: he, she, it, or words for which these pronouns could substitute.

    Examples

    He, She, It All others
    Roberto eats all of the oranges. They eat everything but the rind.
    She wonders which constellations are hidden. I wonder if Leo has already passed.
    It lasts for another three hours or until they score. Veronica and Kevin last as long as they can.

    To Create the plural/singular

    To make a noun plural, we usually add an –s or –es, as in the case of jar to jars or box to boxes.

    A verb is singular, by contrast, when it is matched with a singular subject. A singular verb, then, usually has an –s or –es ending, as in the case of talks and fixes.

    Finding the subject and verb

    To successfully determine whether or not your subjects and verbs agree, you need to be able to locate them in your writing. The subject in a sentence is the agent that is doing whatever is done in the sentence. The verb is the action--what is actually done. Look at this example:

    • The zebra runs down the street.

    The zebra” is the subject of this sentence, and “runs” is the verb.

    Use Pronouns to Help

    When the pronouns he, she or it are used as a subject in a sentence, the verb is always singular, and therefore will contain an –s or –es ending.

    • He takes the money.
    • She stacks the papers.
    • It chimes hourly.

    All other pronouns (I, you, we, they) require a plural verb (one without an –s or –es ending).

    • They skate until March if the ice holds.
    • We borrow money to pay our loans.

    You can use these pronoun rules to determine whether your verb should be plural or singular. Let’s look at a variety of subjects, and see which pronouns can replace them.

    Subject Pronoun substitute Verb
    John, Marion and Isaac They… grow.
    The community forest It…

    grows.

    The leading investigator She…
    The Leaning Tower of Pisa It…

    Practice

    Circle the correct verb for each sentence.

    Tip: write the pronoun above the subject to help you identify whether the verb should be singular or plural.

    ( He )

    1. Jordan ( hang / hangs ) the picture upside down above his futon.

    ( )

    1. Starry Night ( contain / contains ) eleven stars and one swirling moon.

    ( )

    1. The hammers ( pound / pounds ) the nails until each corner is flush against the wall.

    ( )

    1. Van Gogh’s sister ( take / takes ) most of the credit for his genius.

    ( )

    1. The yellows in the painting ( swirl / swirls ) around the blue sky rather than the other way around.
    Answer

    Circle the correct verb for each sentence.

    Tip: write the pronoun above the subject to help you identify whether the verb should be singular or plural.

    ( He )

    1. Jordan ( hang / hangs ) the picture upside down above his futon.

    ( It )

    1. Starry Night ( contain / contains ) eleven stars and one swirling moon.

    ( They )

    1. The hammers ( pound / pounds ) the nails until each corner is flush against the wall.

    ( She )

    1. Van Gogh’s sister ( take / takes ) most of the credit for his genius.

    ( They )

    1. The yellows in the painting ( swirl / swirls ) around the blue sky rather than the other way around.

    Complicated subjects

    Some subjects include phrases that might confuse you into choosing the wrong verb. The verb agrees with the subject, not the noun or pronoun in the phrase.

    • The person who loathes cats plays only with their tails.
    • One of the brothers is missing.
    • The computer building, including all of the labs, closes its doors promptly at seven.

    Subjects connected by “and” require a plural verb. Subjects connected by “or” or “nor” require a singular.

    • John and Jeff drive downtown.
    • A sandwich or muffin is fine.
    • Neither rain nor shine helps the soccer field.

    If a compound subject has both plural and singular nouns, follow the pronoun rule for the noun closest to the verb.

    • One walnut or two acorns fill a squirrel for a day.

    Practice

    Fill in the verb for each sentence.

    Subject Verb
    Martin and his mother play [to play] backgammon every day after work.
    The junior or senior [to march] in the Homecoming parade.
    A plum, and not the carrots, [to provide] valuable nutrients to the body.
    Martha or Dan’s children [to scribble] on the wall to create their art.
    The banana’s peel [to stretch] across the floor to make them trip.
    Saving of electricity [to take] strong initiative, but benefits all of us.
    The group of friends [to call] each card aloud to win the game.

    Agreement Practice Paragraph: The Supreme Court

    Underline each subject once, each verb twice, and fix any incorrect verbs. The first sentence is done for you.

    The Supreme Court Justices rejoices after a particularly difficult decision. Though they usually lean on the chief justice to announce the ruling (unless he is in the minority) each celebrate in his or her own way. A reporter, speaking on the condition of anonymity, tells that in each session, the justices bickers back and forth even when they seem to agree. One or two bicker more than the others, but no one keep silent for long. All this bickering produces so much tension that when they finish a case, they all must go their separate ways until at least the following week when they repeat the whole process.

    Answer

    Fill in the verb for each sentence

    Subject Verb
    Martin and his mother play [to play] backgammon every day after work.
    The junior or senior marches [to march] in the Homecoming parade.
    A plum, and not the carrots, provides [to provide] valuable nutrients to the body.
    Martha or Dan’s children scribble [to scribble] on the wall to create their art.
    The banana’s peel stretches [to stretch] across the floor to make them trip.
    Saving of electricity takes [to take] strong initiative, but benefits all of us.
    The group of friends calls [to call] each card aloud to win the game.

    Agreement Practice Paragraph: The Supreme Court

    Underline each subject once, each verb twice, and fix any incorrect verbs. The first sentence is done for you.

    The Supreme Court Justices rejoices after a particularly difficult decision. Though they usually lean on the chief justice to announce the ruling (unless he is in the minority) each celebrates in his or her own way. A reporter, speaking on the condition of anonymity, tells that in each session, the justices bickers back and forth even when they seem to agree. One or two bicker more than the others, but no one keeps silent for long. All this bickering produces so much tension that when they finish a case, they all must go their separate ways until at least the following week when they repeat the whole process.


    This page titled 15.13: Subject-Verb Agreement is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Skyline English Department.

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