By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Identify subjects and verbs in sentences.
- Distinguish between subjects and verbs that agree and those that do not.
The subject of a sentence names something. The predicate contains the verb, which expresses an action, an occurrence, or a state of being. The subject and verb in a sentence must agree. In standard English, “agreement“ means that a singular subject must have a singular verb (The bus leaves in five minutes) and a plural subject must have a plural verb (The buses leave in five minutes). However, some English dialects omit the -s ending for singular verbs or use a singular verb with a plural subject: The man ask for help. Property taxes was raised last year.
Subject-verb agreement gets tricky in several sentence constructions, which are described below. To check for subject-verb agreement in your writing, proofread your final draft by finding each subject and verb. Then use the following questions to test whether the subject and verb agree. For more on subject-verb agreement, see Verbs.
Is the subject compound? Two or more subjects joined by and take a plural verb in most sentences:
Basketball and wrestling are my favorite sports.
However, when the parts of the subject form a single idea or unit, the verb is singular:
Red beans and rice is my favorite meal.
Ten dollars is enough money for lunch.
When compound subjects are joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the word closest to it:
Either your uncles or your mother remembers your grandmother’s gumbo recipe.
Either your mother or your uncles remember your grandmother’s gumbo recipe.
Do other words come between the subject and verb? The verb must agree with the subject even when words and phrases come between them:
The price of these shoes at all stores is unbelievable.
A suitcase containing sweaters, coats, and jackets was found in the street.
Does the verb come before the subject? The subject and verb must agree even when the verb comes before the subject:
Are Daniela and Juliana waiting at the restaurant?
There were three dogs in the yard, all barking at the same time.
In my pocket are a wallet and two pens.
Is the subject an indefinite pronoun, such as everyone? Indefinite pronouns do not refer to specific people or things. Most indefinite pronouns take a singular verb, but not all.
The indefinite pronouns that take a singular verb include anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, everybody, everyone, everything, neither, nobody, no one, nothing, one, somebody, someone, and something.
Everyone on the team practices all season.
Neither of the wide receivers feels ready for the season to end.
These indefinite pronouns take a plural verb: both, few, many, others, and several.
Several of the athletes on the team come from the same high school.
Both wide receivers have excellent stats.
A few indefinite pronouns take a singular or plural verb depending on whether the word they refer to is singular or plural. These include all, any, enough, more, most, none, and some. With these pronouns, use a singular or plural verb that fits the context of your sentence.
All of these students take at least one class in science or math. (plural)
Most of his work is original. (singular)
Is the subject a collective noun? Collective nouns, such as audience, band, class, crowd, family, group, or team, can take a singular or a plural verb depending on the context. When group members act individually, use a plural verb. Writers often add the word members for clarity. When the group acts as a single unit, which is the most common construction, use a singular verb:
The band rehearses every Thursday.
The union (members) still disagree on the contract terms.
Practice Subject-Verb Agreement
Select the correct verb to complete each sentence.
- Under the table ________ his slippers and socks. (is, are)
- The choir usually ________ in the auditorium. (meets, meet)
- Some of the actors ________ two roles. (performs, perform)
- Some of this song ________ familiar. (sounds, sound)
- Either my brother or my sisters ________ the keys to the truck. (has, have)
- ________ Whitney and her friend need a ride to the station? (does, do)
- The situation concerning the reports and their authors ________ under investigation. (is, are)
- Fifteen dollars and 40 cents ________ the amount of change she received. (is, are)