In a sentence, the verb must agree in number with the subject. If the subject is singular, the verb must be singular. If the subject is plural, the verb must be plural. For example:
In the very simple example above↑ it is clear that the subject He is singular and the subject They is plural. And it is clear that the verb agrees in each case. But in some sentences, it is not always so easy. The guidelines below will help you decide how to make a verb agree with its subject.
A compound subject has two or more simple subjects, usually joined by and or or.
If the compound subject is made from simple subjects joined by and, use a plural verb:
- He and his daughter are Chinese.
- Jack and Jill go up the hill.
- John, as well as his wife, is coming to the party.
- Visitors, including government employees, have to register.
If the compound subject is made from simple subjects joined by or or nor, use a singular verb:
- The girl or the boy is going to help.
- Neither he nor his sister is at home.
Don't be confused by words that come between the simple subject and the verb. The verb must agree with the simple subject, not with any words between them:
- One of my friends is coming.
- My teacher, who has six brothers, has no sisters.
- All the cars owned by the Russian man are leading.
A few nouns can be used only as singular or as plural.
Some nouns are always singular, even though they end in -s and look plural. They must take a singular verb, for example: economics, maths, physics, gymnastics, aerobics, news
- Maths was my worst subject at school.
- The news is not good.
Some nouns have only plural form and always take a plural verb, for example: glasses, scissors, trousers, shorts, belongings, goods
- My new sunglasses are missing.
- The goods have already been shipped.
Normal word order in English is subject-verb-object (SVO). Sometimes, however, the subject and verb are exchanged or inverted (VSO). This typically happens in questions and there is/are sentences. Be careful to identify the real subject.
- Where are the girls playing tennis?
- Here are my keys.
- There is a car outside.
Collective nouns are words that refer to a group of people, such as: team, committee, family, company. Generally, we treat collective nouns as singular to emphasize the single group, or plural to emphasize its individual members. (Note that some writers of American English routinely treat collective nouns as singular.)
- The committee was set up in 1910.
- The committee are eating sandwiches for lunch.
More about subject-verb agreement with collective nouns
Some indefinite pronouns are always singular and need a singular verb, for example: anyone, anything, everyone, no-one, someone
- Is anybody listening?
- When I call, nobody answers.
Some indefinite pronouns are always plural and need a plural verb, for example: both, few, many, others, several
- I invited Kid and Nid and both want to come.
- Many have already left.
Singular or plural
Some indefinite pronouns can be singular when referring to an uncountable subject and plural referring to a countable subject, for example: all, any, more, most, none, some
- All is forgiven. All have arrived.
- Here is some. Some are leaving.
More about plural and singular indefinite pronouns
Fractions (¾), percentages (%) and other parts of a whole follow normal countable/uncountable rules.
- Three-quarters of the building was destroyed.
- Seventy-five percent of the buildings were destroyed.
- Some of the boys have left.
Uncountable nouns (always singular)
- Half of the wine comes from France.
- Some of the wine is bad.