Important Rules of Subject-Verb Agreement
1. When every and each come before a singular subject joined by and, the verb is singular.
- Every man and woman has the right to vote.
- Each student and teacher was aware of the difficulty.
2. In sentences beginning with here or there, the true subject follows the verb.
- There are four hurdles to jump.
- There is a high hurdle to jump.
- Here are the keys.
3. Several, many, both, few are plural words and take a plural verb.
Both are happy with the grades they got.
Many were lost on the way.
Few have done their homework.
4. When words like the following are used as subjects, they take a singular verb.
Everybody knows the answer.
Nobody speaks German here.
Somebody was in the room.
5. A subject will come before a phrase beginning with of. This is a key rule for understanding subjects. The word is the culprit in many, perhaps most, subject-verb mistakes.
Hasty writers, speakers, readers, and listeners might miss the all-too-common mistake in the following sentence:
Incorrect: A bouquet of yellow roses lend colour and fragrance to the room.
Correct: A bouquet of yellow roses lends . . . (bouquet lends, not roses lend)
6. When subjects are joined by words such as neither, either, not only the verb must agree with the closer subject.
Either the man or his wife knows the answer.
Either the man or his friends know the answer.
Either the children or the man knows the answer.
7. Some nouns look plural with –s but they take a singular verb.
- Abstract nouns
8. When a plural noun denotes some specific quantity or amount that is considered as a whole, the verb is generally used in the singular form.
- Two-thirds of the village is in ruins. (here ’are’ is not used)
- Five weeks is a good holiday. (here ‘are’ is not used)
9. Generic references with the require plural verb.
- The rich are not always happy.
- The young like to listen to loud music.
- The old hate loud music.
- The English are distant and the French are humorous.
10. Also, this scheme is followed by book titles and names of sciences.
- The Arabian Nights is an amazing book.
- Physics is a difficult subject.
Within a sentence, there are certain requirements for the relationship between the subject and the verb.
Rule: The subject and verb must agree both in number and person.
- Example: We have surpassed our sales goal of one billion dollars.
Here, the first person plural verb "have" agrees with its first-person plural subject "We".
Ironically, the third person singular verbs often end in s or es:
- Example: He seems to be dull.
Rule: Intervening phrases and clauses have no effect on subject-verb agreement.
- Example: Only one of the Speaker’s nominees was confirmed.
Here, the singular verb "was" agrees with its singular subject "One". The intervening prepositional phrase of the Speaker’s nominees has no effect on the number or person of the verb.
Note: Collective nouns followed by intervening phrases are particularly easy to miss.
- The content of the files is what she wants.
- The meaning of her sentences is clear.
- A group of tigers is called a "streak."
Note: Be careful when a simple subject is followed by a phrase beginning with as well as, along with, together with, in addition to, or a similar expression. Be sure to make the verb agree with the simple subject, not with a noun in the intervening phrase.
- Example: Our President, along with most ministers, opposes the bill.
Here, the singular verb "opposes" agrees with its singular subject "President". The intervening phrase along with most Ministers has no effect on the number or person of the verb.
Rule: When the subject and verb are reversed, they still must agree in both number and person.
- Example: Attached are copies of the agreement.
Here, the plural verb "are attached" agrees with its plural subject "copies". The sentence could be rewritten as "Copies of the agreement are attached". Although it may seem obvious that when reversing the normal order of the subject and the verb their agreement must be preserved, this error is easy to miss.
- Example (wrong): Attached to the email is the data file and the agreement.
This ungrammatical sentence sounds natural perhaps because its error is committed so often. The compound subject of the sentence is the data file and the agreement which must take a plural verb: Attached to the email are the data file and the agreement.
With the natural order of the subject first and then the verb in this sentence, one would be unlikely to mistakenly choose a singular verb: The data file and the agreement are attached to the email.
Note: Be careful when an inverted subject-verb order is introduced by construction such as there is, there are, here is, here are. In these constructions, the actual subject follows the verb.
- Example: There is much disagreement between the teams.
The singular verb "is" agrees with the singular subject of the sentence disagreement. In these constructions, it is tempting to mistakenly use a singular verb before the plural subject.
- Example (wrong): There is a wallet and a key on the table.
The compound (plural) subject of this sentence is a wallet and a key. It requires a plural verb: There are a wallet and a key on the table.
This error occurs often in daily speech because the verb has to be chosen before we fully form the subject in our minds. Since the first part of the compound subject "a wallet" is singular, we naturally introduce it with the singular verb is. Here we end up our article on Subject-Verb Agreement (Part II). Avoid these mistakes and follow the above-given rules to boost up your preparation level.
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