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2.1: Foundations for Subjects and Verbs

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    Key Concepts

    The subject of a sentence will be a noun (person, place, thing or idea) or a pronoun (a word that renames a noun). The subject is doing something or being something within the sentence.

    verb is a word that shows action or state of being. Verbs often show what the subject of a sentence is doing.

    For most action verbs to agree with a singular subject, you add an s to the verb. 

    The principal (singular) donates (verb) food.

    For most action verbs to agree with a plural subject, you do NOT add an s to the verb.

    The teachers (plural subject) donate (verb) food.

    The verbs have and has are among a short list of verbs that can stand alone in a sentence or help an action verb.

    The teachers (subject) have (verb) a new principal.
    (The verb have stands alone.)

    The principal (subject) has donated (verb) food.
    (The verb has helps the action verb donated.)

    Similarly, the verbs amisarewas, and were can help an action verb or stand alone to link a subject to the rest of the sentence. They are sometimes called linking verbs or verbs that show state of being.

    The teachers (subject) are (verb) eager for the start of school.
    (The verb are stands alone.)

    The principal (subject) was speaking (verb) to staff members.
    (The verb was helps the action verb speaking.)

    gerund is a verb that ends in -ing and functions as a noun. A gerund can be the subject of a sentence.

    Smiling (subject) improves (verb) my attitude.
    (The gerund smiling functions as the subject of the sentence.)

    For novice guitar players, tuning (subjectis (verb) often difficult.
    (The gerund tuning functions as the subject of the sentence.)

    For a sentence to be considered complete, it must contain a main subject along with a verb to accompany that subject. This remains true when you add modifying words. For example, the following two sentences have the same subject (captain) and accompanying verb (laughed):

    The captain laughed.

    The ship’s longtime captain, a jovial man with a flowing beard, laughed loudly at the traveler’s sophomoric joke.

    Verbs show action or state of being, and they come in different forms. This guidebook contains several chapters that help you analyze a sentence to determine the subject and then use the correct form of the verb to accompany that subject.

    Our first lesson about subject/verb agreement covers a few basic concepts of traditional grammar and can help you identify tricky situations.

    Many of you studied subject-verb agreement when you were younger, so the key concepts above may have been a review for you. 

    Below is a simple overview for finding the subject of a sentence and the verb that goes with that subject.

    Study the following presentation slides by using the forward button or clicking on sections of the control bar. To enlarge any interactive presentation in this guidebook, click on the lower-right full-screen option (arrows):


    (NOTE – The automated grading on the exercise above may seem different than a standard right/wrong format. It will still display your correct and incorrect responses, though. Don’t worry about your calculated score. Just focus on learning.)

    Singular and Plural Subjects

    When we study singular and plural words, we typically think of nouns and pronouns, such as one book (singular noun) vs. two books (plural noun) or she (singular pronoun) vs. they (plural pronoun). However, the use of a singular or plural subject affects the verb choice.

    One book is on the table.
    Two books are on the table.

    She is anxious.
    They are anxious.

    For most nouns, we add an s to make most nouns become plural, as in editor (singular) vs. editors (plural). Note that the opposite can be true with verbs. To make a verb agree with a singular subject, we often add an to the end of the verb. Conversely, to make a verb agree with a plural subject, we do NOT add an s to the verb. Study these two examples:

    One editor agrees with me.
    (singular subject editor // add an s to the verb agrees)

     Two editors agree with me.
    (plural subject editors // no s for the verb agree)

    This also applies to verbs that show state of being or help the main verb. Here are some basic examples that may help you understand future chapters:

    IS / ARE / AM
    One person is here.
    (singular subject person // use the verb is)

    Two people are here.
    (plural subject people // use the verb are)

    I am here
    (singular pronoun I as the subject // use the verb am)

    WAS / WERE
    One person was here.
    (singular subject person // use the verb was)

    Two people were here.
    (plural subject people // use the verb were)

    HAS / HAVE
    One person has signed the petition.
    (singular subject person // use the verb phrase has signed)

    Two people have signed the petition.
    (plural subject people // no s for the verb phrase have signed)

    I have signed the petition.
    (An exception to the first two has/have guidelines above is that you should use have with the first-person pronoun I.)


    As an additional note, don’t confuse the verb have with the preposition of. When using have with couldwould or should, for example, always write could have, would have and should have, not 

    could ofwould of, or should of.

    Most chapters in this guidebook focus primarily on proper usage. If you need to refresh your memory about traditional parts of speech, or if you’ve never had a chance to study English grammar closely, Purdue OWL is a helpful resource.

    2.1: Foundations for Subjects and Verbs is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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