Subject-Verb Agreement

agreement (noun): in language, the form of one word being decided by the form of another word. Also known as "concord"

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:

  subject verb  
singular He is Thai.
plural They are Thai.

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.


Compound subjects

A compound subject has two or more simple subjects, usually joined by and or or.

and

If the compound subject is made from simple subjects joined by and, use a plural verb:

Phrases such as together with, as well as, accompanied by and including are not the same as and. They do not make compound subjects. The verb must still agree with the simple subject:
  • John, as well as his wife, is coming to the party.
  • Visitors, including government employees, have to register.

or

If the compound subject is made from simple subjects joined by or or nor, use a singular verb:


Midsentence words

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:


Singular/plural nouns

A few nouns can be used only as singular or as plural.

Always singular

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

Always plural

Some nouns have only plural form and always take a plural verb, for example: glasses, scissors, trousers, shorts, belongings, goods


Inverted subjects

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.

More about subject-verb agreement with there is, there are


Collective nouns

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.)

More about subject-verb agreement with collective nouns


Indefinite pronouns

Singular

Some indefinite pronouns are always singular and need a singular verb, for example: anyone, anything, everyone, no-one, someone

Plural

Some indefinite pronouns are always plural and need a plural verb, for example: both, few, many, others, several

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

More about plural and singular indefinite pronouns


Fractions

Fractions (¾), percentages (%) and other parts of a whole follow normal countable/uncountable rules.

Countable nouns

Uncountable nouns (always singular)