Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-Verb agreement
A native speaker of English understands basic subject-verb agreement as a result of learning the language as a child.
A child may claim that a scraped knee feels fine now, but it “feeled bad” the day before. As the child grows, he or she
will gradually learn that feel is an irregular verb and the regular rule for making a verb past tense–adding –ed to the
ending–will not work in this case. In the same way, most difficulties with verbs fade with childhood, but problems
with subject-verb agreement, which means making the subject of the sentence agree (or match) in number with the
verb, may still arise.
A subject and verb agree in number when they are both either plural or singular. Consider the child again. A child may
say, “I feels bad,” when he or she means, “I feel bad.” The child has used a singular subject, I, with a plural verb, feels.
To think about this more clearly, consider the conjugation of the verb run shown in Table 4.3.
Table 4.3 Conjugation of the Verb Run
First person
Second person
Third person
I run
We run
You run
You run
He runs
They run
Demonstrated in this table, the third person singular form of regular verbs in English has an –s at the end. The other
forms of the verb are alike. Usually, this rule is very clear, and a native speaker can easily move from first person to
second person while making subjects and verbs agree. Consider the following sentence:
The two women work well together in their group assignment.
In this sentence, the plural subject women agrees with the plural verb work. However, not all sentences are this
straightforward. When subjects and verbs are separated by other words, agreement can become more difficult. Take a
look at this example:
A physician, constantly surrounded by many patients who need help with their ailments and illnesses,
easily become overwhelmed.
In this case, the descriptors or modifiers set off in commas make the subject-verb agreement error obvious. The
sentence should state that “A physician... easily becomes overwhelmed.” Now try this one:
Sometimes the conference planner, holding the nametags and information packets for the newly arrived
participants, many of whom have already introduced themselves, seem unneeded.
Though not quite so obvious, after omitting the descriptive information between the subject and the verb, it is easy to
see the error. The sentence should state that “The... planner... seems unneeded.”
Another issue regarding subject-verb agreement involves the use of or, nor, and and. When or or nor is used to connect
multiple subjects that are singular, a singular verb is required; when and is used, a plural verb is necessary:
Neither Mark nor Ann enjoys studying obstetrics, but both Mark and Ann enjoy studying geriatrics.
The main argument or dispute between the couple who is in the process of divorcing is the welfare of the
children, but both the topic and debate are well known in the judge’s courtroom.
In this latter example, or requires the singular verb is, while and requires the plural verb are.
Finally, be careful when using nouns that seem plural but are actually conjugated with singular verbs; many of these
end in one:
Everyone hopes to score well on the exam.
Any of us has the opportunity to score well.
None of the students uses the break period to study English.
Anyone is welcome to study in the library.
Practice problems
Solutions to the practice problems are located in the back of this book.
The following sentences may or may not be correct. If the sentence is incorrect, write the correct sentence in the
space provided. If the sentence is correct, write “no change” in the space provided.
The planes was flying overhead.
Everyone have a favorite dessert.
Several of the members chooses not to vote.
They say a woman’s home is her castle.
The man and woman eats at 3:00 p.m.