In the workplace, you want to present a professional image. Your outfit or suit says something about you when meeting face-to-face, and your writing represents you in your absence. Grammatical mistakes in your writing or even in speaking make a negative impression on coworkers, clients, and potential employers. Subject-verb agreement is one of the most common errors that people make. Having a solid understanding of this concept is critical when making a good impression, and it will help ensure that your ideas are communicated clearly.
What Is Agreement?
Agreement in speech and in writing refers to the proper grammatical match between words and phrases. Parts of sentences must agree, or correspond with other parts, in number, person, case, and gender.
- Number. All parts must match in singular or plural forms.
- Person. All parts must match in first person (I), second person (you), or third person (he, she, it, they) forms.
- Case. All parts must match in subjective (I, you, he, she, it, they, we), objective (me, her, him, them, us), or possessive (my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, their, theirs, our, ours) forms. For more information on pronoun case agreement, see Chapter 12.10.
- Gender. All parts must match in male or female forms.
Subject-verb agreement describes the proper match between subjects and verbs.
Because subjects and verbs are either singular or plural, the subject of a sentence and the verb of a sentence must agree with each other in number. That is, a singular subject belongs with a singular verb form, and a plural subject belongs with a plural verb form. For more information on subjects and verbs, see sections 12.2, 12.5, and 12.8. Notice that in the sentences below, the simple present tense is used. Many times, subject-verb agreement mistakes are made in this verb tense.
Singular: The cat jumps over the fence.
Plural: The cats jump over the fence.
Agreement for Regular Verbs
Regular verbs follow a predictable pattern. For example, in the third person singular, regular verbs always end in -s. Other forms of regular verbs do not end in -s. Study the following regular verb forms in the present tense.
**Use simple present tense when writing about universal truths, texts, and movies.**
Table 12.13.1 -- Regular Verbs
|First person||I walked||I walk||I will walk|
|Second person||You walked||You walk||You will walk|
|Third person singular||It walked||It walks||It will walk|
|Third person plural||They walked||They walk||They will walk|
|First person||I had walked||I have walked||I will have walked|
|Second person||You had walked||You have walked||You will have walked|
|Third person singular||He had walked||He has walked||He will have walked|
|Third person plural||They had walked||They have walked||They will have walked|
|First person||I was walking||I am walking||I will be walking|
|Second person||You were walking||You are walking||You will be walking|
|Third person singular||He was walking||He is walking||He will be walking|
|Third person plural||They were walking||They are walking||They will be walking|
|First person||I had been walking||I have been walking||I will have been walking|
|Second person||You had been walking||You have been walking||You will have been walking|
|Third person singular||He had been walking||He has been walking||He will have been walking|
|Third person plural||They had been walking||They have been walking||They will have been walking|
In the following sentences, choose the correct form of the verb (in parentheses) depending upon whether the subject is first, second, or third person singular or plural.
1. She ______________________ to work every day. (drive, simple present)
2. They ______________________ to call their parents to ask permission to stay out a little later. (remember, simple past)
3. Joannie and Shari ______________ for the ride-share to arrive. (wait, simple present)
4. I ________________ the house before company arrived. (clean, simple past)
5. You ____________ the new food; believe me! (like, simple future)
6. Toddlers _______________ dirt pretty often. (eat, simple present)
Agreement for Irregular Verbs
The "to be" verbs are the most common verbs in the English language. However, they are also irregular when it comes to subject-verb agreement.
"To be" verbs only carry simple past, present, and future tenses.
Table 12.13.2 -- Agreement for the "to be" Verbs
Complete the following sentences by writing the correct present tense form of be, have, or do so that the subject-verb agreement is correct. Use your own sheet of paper to complete this exercise.
- I ________ sure that you will succeed.
- They ________ front-row tickets to the show.
- He ________ a great Elvis impersonation.
- We ________ so excited to meet you in person!
- She ________ a fever and a sore throat.
- You ________ not know what you are talking about.
- You ________ all going to pass this class.
- She ________ not going to like that.
- It ________ appear to be the right size.
- They ________ ready to take this job seriously
Errors in Subject-Verb Agreement
Errors in subject-verb agreement may occur when:
- a sentence contains a compound subject;
- the subject of the sentence is separate from the verb;
- the subject of the sentence is an indefinite pronoun, such as anyone or everyone;
- the subject of the sentence is a collective noun, such as team or organization; or
- the subject appears after the verb.
Recognizing the sources of common errors in subject-verb agreement will help you avoid these errors in your writing. This section covers the subject-verb agreement errors in more detail.
A compound subject is formed by two or more nouns and the coordinating conjunctions and, or, or nor. A compound subject can be made of singular subjects, plural subjects, or a combination of singular and plural subjects.
Compound subjects combined with and take a plural verb form.
Two singular subjects: Alicia and Miguel ride their bikes to the beach.
Two plural subjects: The girls and the boys ride their bikes to the beach.
Singular and plural subjects: Alicia and the boys ride their bikes to the beach.
Compound subjects combined with or and nor are treated separately. The verb must agree with the subject that is nearest to the verb.
Two singular subjects: Neither Elizabeth nor Rianna wants to eat at that restaurant.
Two plural subjects: Neither the kids nor the adults want to eat at that restaurant.
Singular and plural subjects: Neither Elizabeth nor the kids want to eat at that restaurant.
Plural and singular subjects: Neither the kids nor Elizabeth wants to eat at that restaurant.
Two singular subjects: Either you or Jason takes the furniture out of the garage.
Two plural subjects: Either you or the twins take the furniture out of the garage.
Singular and plural subjects: Either Jason or the twins take the furniture out of the garage.
Plural and singular subjects: Either the twins or Jason takes the furniture out of the garage.
If you can substitute the word they for the compound subject, then the sentence takes the third person plural verb form.
Separation of Subjects and Verbs
As you read or write, you may come across a sentence that contains a phrase or clause that separates the subject from the verb. Often, prepositional phrases or dependent clauses add more information to the sentence and appear between the subject and the verb. However, the subject and the verb must still agree.
If you have trouble finding the subject and verb, cross out or ignore the phrases and clauses that begin with prepositions or dependent words. The subject of a sentence will never be in a prepositional phrase or dependent clause.
The following is an example of a subject and verb separated by a prepositional phrase:
The student with the best grades wins the academic awards.*
The puppy under the table is my favorite.
*Notice that the noun before the verb is plural, but because that word, "grades," is the object of the preposition, not the subject in the sentence. So the verb "wins" does not need to agree with "grades," it needs to agree with "student."
The following is an example of a subject and verb separated by a dependent clause:
The car that I bought has power steering and a sunroof.
The representatives who are courteous sell the most tickets.
Indefinite pronouns refer to an unspecified person, thing, or number. When an indefinite pronoun serves as the subject of a sentence, you will often use a singular verb form.
However, keep in mind that exceptions arise. Some indefinite pronouns may require a plural verb form. To determine whether to use a singular or plural verb with an indefinite pronoun, consider the noun that the pronoun would refer to. If the noun is plural, then use a plural verb with the indefinite pronoun. View the chart to see a list of common indefinite pronouns and the verb forms they agree with.
Table 12.13.3 -- Indefinite Pronoun Agreement
|Indefinite Pronouns That Always Take a Singular Verb||Indefinite Pronouns That Can Take a Singular or Plural Verb|
|anybody, anyone, anything||All|
|everybody, everyone, everything||None|
|nobody, no one, nothing|
|somebody, someone, something|
Singular: Everybody in the kitchen sings along when that song comes on the radio.
The indefinite pronoun everybody takes a singular verb form because everybody refers to a group performing the same action as a single unit.
Plural: All the people in the kitchen sing along when that song comes on the radio.
The indefinite pronoun all takes a plural verb form because all refers to the plural noun people. Because people is plural, all is plural.
Singular: All the cake is on the floor.
In this sentence, the indefinite pronoun all takes a singular verb form because all refers to the singular noun cake. Because cake is singular, all is singular.
A collective noun is a noun that identifies more than one person, place, or thing and considers those people, places, or things to be one singular unit. Because collective (noncount) nouns are counted as one, they are singular and require a singular verb. Some commonly used collective nouns are group, team, army, flock, family, and class.
Singular: The class is going on a field trip.
In this sentence, class is a collective noun. Although the class consists of many students, the class is treated as a singular unit and requires a singular verb form.
The Subject Follows the Verb
You may encounter sentences in which the subject comes after the verb instead of before the verb. In other words, the subject of the sentence may not appear where you expect it to appear. To ensure proper subject-verb agreement, you must correctly identify the subject and the verb.
Here or There
In sentences that begin with here or there, the subject follows the verb.
Here is my wallet!
There are thirty dolphins in the water.
If you have trouble identifying the subject and the verb in sentences that start with here or there; it may help to reverse the order of the sentence so the subject comes first.
My wallet is here!
Thirty dolphins are in the water.
When you ask questions, a question word (who, what, where, when, why, or how) appears first. The verb and then the subject follow.
Who are the people you are related to?
When am I going to go to the grocery store?
If you have trouble finding the subject and the verb in questions, try answering the question being asked.
When am I going to the grocery store? I am going to the grocery store tonight.
Correct the errors in subject-verb agreement in the following sentences. If there are no errors in subject-verb agreement, write OK. Copy the corrected sentence or the word OK on your own sheet of notebook paper.
- My dog and cats chases each other all the time.
- The books that are in my library is the best I have ever read.
- Everyone are going to the concert except me.
- My family are moving to California.
- Here is the lake I told you about.
- There is the newspapers I was supposed to deliver.
- Which room is bigger?
- When are the movie going to start?
- My sister and brother cleans up after themselves.
- Some of the clothes is packed away in the attic.
Correct the errors in subject-verb agreement in the following paragraph. Copy the paragraph on a piece of notebook paper and make corrections.
Dear Hiring Manager,
I feels that I am the ideal candidate for the receptionist position at your company. I has three years of experience as a receptionist in a company that is similar to yours. My phone skills and written communication is excellent. These skills, and others that I have learned on the job, helps me understand that every person in a company helps make the business a success. At my current job, the team always say that I am very helpful. Everyone appreciate when I go the extra mile to get the job done right. My current employer and coworkers feels that I am an asset to the team. I is efficient and organized. Is there any other details about me that you would like to know? If so, please contact me. Here are my résumé. You can reach me by e-mail or phone. I looks forward to speaking with you in person.
Writing at Work
Imagine that you are a prospective client and that you saw this ad online. Would you call Terra Services to handle your next project? Probably not! Mistakes in subject-verb agreement can cost a company business. Paying careful attention to grammatical details ensures professionalism that clients will recognize and respect.
Contributors and Attributions
CC LICENSED CONTENT, SHARED PREVIOUSLY:
- Adapted from College ESL Writers: Applied Grammar and Composing Strategies for Success. Authored by: Barbara Hall and Elizabeth Wallace. Provided by: GALILEO Open Learning Materials. License: CC BY-NC-SA (3.0): Attribution.
- Adapted from Writing for Success. Provided by: The Saylor Foundation. License: CC-NC-SA 3.0.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED CONTENT:
- Subject Verb Agreement. Authored by: Socratica. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
This page most recently updated on June 8, 2020.