Subject/Verb Agreement

This rule comes first because understanding it can help you understand some of the others. In most sentences you follow it

naturally, but it can cause trouble. The rule is as follows: The subject and verb of each clause must agree in number.

The subject and verb of each clause must agree in number.

If you have a singular subject, you need a singular verb. If you have a plural subject, you need a plural verb. Singular and plural tell how many. Singular means one. Plural means more than one. Both your subject and verb must give the same signal as to how many you are talking about.

Read the following sentences and see if you can find any problems with subject/verb agreement.

1. The cat come home tired.

2. The cat comes home tired.

3. The cats come home tired.

4. The cats comes home tired.

Can you explain the problem in sentences one and four? If not, consider that with most nouns, our language forms the plural by adding an s, but with verbs, an s is added only in the third person singular.

Person/Number Chart

  Singular Plural
1st person

I come

we come

2nd person

you come

you come

3rd person*

he, she, it, this, or that comes

the cat* comes

they, these, or those come

the cats* come

*All nouns—words such as table, cat or frog—should be considered 3rd person.

Mastering Subject/Verb Agreement

1. Force yourself to listen for s sounds as you write. In speaking, we sometimes drop these sounds as we fade one word into another. Because of this, we may forget the sounds are even there. Thus, we fail to make our subjects and verbs agree. Listening for those s sounds is the real key to getting rid of most agreement problems.

2. Don't be misled by false subjects. Be sure the word you make your verb agree with is actually the subject of the clause, not just another noun.

Change:

Those tomatoes from my brother looks juicy.

to:

Those tomatoes from my brother look juicy.

The first sentence gives mixed signals because the verb has been made to agree with the false subject "brother" rather than the true subject, "tomatoes." Here's another example of the false subject.

Change: Forgetting your tickets cause problems.

to:

Forgetting your tickets causes problems.

At first glance "tickets" may look like the subject, but a moment's reflection tells us that "forgetting your tickets" causes problems, not the tickets themselves. Whenever such a verb phrase serves as the subject, consider it singular.

3. Treat collectives as singulars. Collective nouns identify a group: a team, a platoon, a class, a congregation, a family. Treat broadly inclusive nouns such as "nobody," "everybody," "anyone," "each," and "everyone" as singular also.

Change: My family like to go to church together.

to:

My family likes to go to church together.

Even if the family has eight or nine people, it is still only one thing; therefore, it is considered singular.

4. Watch out for compound subjects. When the parts of a compound subject are joined by "and," treat the subject as plural, even if the individual parts are singular.

Change: Danny and Rolando gets their share of rebounds.

to:

Danny and Rolando get their share of rebounds.

When the parts are joined by "or" or "nor," let the part nearest the verb determines the verb's number.

Change: Either the head table or the chairs needs realigning.

to:

Either the head table or the chairs need realigning.
   
Change: Neither the chairs nor the head table need realigning.

to:

Neither the chairs nor the head table needs realigning.

Activities

4.11 Edit the following sentences for subject/verb agreement.

a. The gloves I got for Christmas is too small.

b. My knee look like it is starting to heal.

c. Breakfast and lunch always tastes great.

d. Opening the cans spoil the meat.

e. Our team don't get discouraged when we lose.

f. The bus always get me here on time.

g. The corner and the edge shows the rust first.

h. These bandages works great.

i. Neither the judge nor the jury are responsible for this.

j. Our staff and equipment is ready to serve you.

4.12 Read the following sentences and tell whether the subject and verb agree in number. Be prepared to explain and justify your answer.

a. A big tree with all the trimmings make the holidays special.

b. Anyone wearing muddy boots are to stand over there.

c. The houses by the river are the oldest.

d. The old man in the corner booth looks tired.

e. Our selection of tomatoes top them all.

f. At the foot of the dunes a small boy plays by the shore.

g. Flags of many nations flutters in the chilly breeze.

h. The shocks in my Mustang is shot.

i. The tie with the orange stripes looks bold.

j. Too many onions spoils the stew.