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Reading Writing Center | Microlab 11


Microlab 11 | Subject/Verb Agreement

The act of writing has been called the art of linking words together correctly. One of the most important links between words in English occurs between subjects and verbs.

This microlab will help you:

  • - Understand how subjects and verbs agree in number (plural and single subjects/verbs)
  • - Recognize correct agreement between subjects and verbs
  • - Make subjects and verbs agree in number in your own writing
  • Review of Subject/Verb Agreement

    If subjects and verbs could talk, we could listen to them agree:

    (Refers to a single item) (Accompanies single subjects)
    A rainbow appears
    subject verb
    singular singular

    Plural subjects and verbs also agree:

    (Refers to a plural item) (Accompanies plural subjects)
    Storm clouds retreat
    Subject Verb
    Plural Plural

    Singular subjects and verbs always refer to one person or thing:

    The bracket supports the shelf.
    Rosa speaks three languages.
    A pine cone hangs on the tree.

    Plural subjects and verbs always refer to more than one person or thing:

    The brackets support the shelf.
    Rosa’s friends speak two languages.
    Several pine cones hang on the tree.

    The Basic Rule of Agreement

    The singular subject (one person or thing) goes with a singular verb. A plural subject (more than one person or thing) goes with a plural verb. In other words, subjects and verbs must agree in number.

    I. Provide singular verbs that agree with each of these singular subjects:

    The camel _____________ water in its hump.         	(stores)
    One cave ______________to a waterfall.        		(leads)
    The candle _____________the whole room.		(lights)

    II. Provide plural verbs that agree with each of these plural subjects:

    City buses___________late.				(run)
    Brown eggs___________the nest.			(fill)
    Two gymnasts _________to the stage.			(march)

    III. Subjects and verbs must agree in number even when they are separated by other words in the sentence.

    Notice how this subject agrees with the verb in spite of their separation.

    A doctor specializing in childhood diseases visits the hospital every day.

    When your ear for English fails to tell you which verb form to choose, use your eyes. Trace down the subject, decide whether it is singular or plural, and then choose a verb that agrees in number.

    Let’s look at eight examples of subject/verb agreement that often fool the ear.

    IV. Two singular subjects joined by “and” agree with a plural verb.

    A pool and a spa delight the guests.

    BUT: If two singular subjects joined by “and” are preceded by “each” or “every,” the subject agrees with a singular verb.

    Each beach and tide pool delights the guests.

    V. Singular subjects joined by “or” (or by “either . . . or” or “neither . . . nor”) agree with a singular verb.

    A sled or a toboggan is useful in Utah.
    Either green or blue matches the paint.
    Neither glue nor tape holds in water.

    VI. When a singular subject and a plural subject are joined by “or” (or by “either . . . or” or “neither . . . nor”), the verb agrees with the subject nearer to it.

    Either gold or gems attract settlers.
    Either gems or gold attracts settlers.

    VII. Some subjects like “measles” and “physics” look as if they are plural because they end in “s,” but in fact they have singular meanings. Therefore, they agree with singular verbs.

    Physics follows algebra in this school.

    VIII. Some pronouns used as subjects always agree with singular verbs.

    Each scores points often.
    Either scores points often
    Neither scores points often.
    One scores points often.
    Everybody scores points often. 
    Everyone scores points often.
    No one scores points often.
    Nobody scores points often.
    Anybody scores points often.
    Anyone scores points often.
    Somebody scores points often.
    Someone scores points often.

    IX. A subject such as “all,” “some,” “none,” “most,” or “more” may agree with a singular or plural verb, depending on how the subject is understood in the sentence.

    Some of the pills are in the jar.

    “Some of the pills” means more than one in number; therefore, a plural verb is used.

    Some of the music is easy.

    “Some of the music” is a portion of one thing; therefore, a singular verb is used.

    X. Some subjects look singular in form but can have plural meanings. Here is a brief list of such words:

    committee		crew		group
    number			team		majority

    When any of these words refer to a group as a single unit, use a singular verb.

    The crew wins all its races.

    When any of these words refer to members of the group individually, use a plural verb.

    The group of children bicker.

    XI. Subjects and verbs agree even when the subject follows the verb.

    Coming from the fields were locusts.

    XII. Determiners such as “this” and “that” must precede singular subjects; therefore, the verb will be singular. Likewise, determiners such as “these” and “those” always precede plural subjects; therefore, the verb will also be plural.

    XIII. AUXILIARIES

    All of the verbs used so far have been single words: is, are, write, went, ran, bought. These verb forms are in the simple present or simple past tense. However, the verbs we use in our everyday speech and writing are often expanded verb forms that include auxiliaries. For example: (auxiliary) (main verb)

    The Olympic athletes (have) (been) under a great deal of stress.
    The baby (has been)(sleeping) on the bed.
    The teacher (has) (given) too much homework.
    The boy (might have ) (discovered) the lost money.

    Expanding the verb in this manner can produce numerous one and two and three-word verb strings. For example, let us consider the verb “eat” and a few of its many possible verb strings.

    eat / eats / was eating / ate / am eating / will eat / have eaten / had eaten / might have eaten / should eat / have been eating / may be eating / should have been eating / might have eaten / may have been eaten / could have been eaten

    Key Points to Remember

    1. 1. Subjects and verbs must always agree in number. A singular subject requires a singular verb; a plural subject requires a plural verb.
    2. 2. Subjects and verbs must agree in number even when they are separated by other words in the sentence.
    3. 3. Subjects and verbs agree even when the subject follows the verb.
    4. 4. Singular subjects joined by “ or” (or by “either . . . or” or “neither . . . nor”) agree with singular verbs.
    5. 5. Plural subjects joined by these conjunctions agree with plural verbs when these conjunctions join a singular and a plural subject, the verb agrees with the closest subject.
    6. 6. Subjects joined by “and” agree with a plural verb.
    7. 7. Singular subjects that end in “s” agree with singular verbs
    8. 8. Some pronouns always take only singular verbs
    9. 9. Some subsets may be singular or plural, depending on their meaning.
    10. 10. Singular determiner=>singular subject=>singular verb. The same goes for plurals.