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Tutorial for Subject-Verb Agreement
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What is it?

Subjects and verbs must agree in person and number.

How to find errors

Subject-verb agreement errors often occur in the following situations:

  1. When other words or phrases come between the subject and its verb.

    Faulty

    The number of farm workers have remained constant over several decades.

    (The subject, number, is singular and requires a singular verb, even though the phrase of farm workers appears between the subject and verb.)

  2. In sentences with two or more subjects joined by and. Subjects joined by and are plural and require a plural verb.

    Faulty

    A dot and a dash represents the letter A in Morse code.

    (The subject, a dot and a dash, is plural and requires a plural verb.)

    Faulty

    Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, media magnate Rupert Murdoch, and news correspondent Sam Donaldson was born on March 11.

    (The subject, Antonin Scalia, Rupert Murdoch, and Sam Donaldson, is plural and requires a plural verb.)

  3. In sentences with two or more subjects joined by or, either…or, or neither…nor. In this case, the verb should agree with the subject that is closest to it.

    Faulty

    Math or accounting appear to be a suitable major for you.

    (The closest subject is singular, so the verb should be singular.)

    Faulty

    Neither the sailors nor the boat were harmed by the storm.

    (When one subject is plural and the other singular, the verb should agree with the subject closest to it.)

  4. With collective nouns, such as family, couple, and class.

    Faulty

    The school committee have voted to increase teachers’ salaries.

    (Because the committee is acting as a unit, a singular verb is needed.)

    Faulty

    The team is traveling by train, bus, and bike.

    (Because the team members are acting individually, a plural verb is needed.)

  5. With indefinite pronouns such as anyone, everyone, each, every, no one, and something. Most indefinite pronouns are singular.

    Faulty

    Everyone in this room are welcome to express an opinion.

    (Everyone is an indefinite pronoun, which requires a singular verb.)

  6. With relative pronouns, which need to agree with their antecedent.

    Faulty

    Toni Morrison, who enjoy unique success as both a popular and a literary author, won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993.

    (Who refers to Toni Morrison, and because Toni Morrison is singular, the verb should be singular.)

    Faulty

    Look for stores that displays this sign.

    (That refers to stores, a plural noun. Therefore, the verb should be plural.)

  7. When a subject follows a verb, which often happens in sentences that begin with here or there or with a prepositional phrase.

    Faulty

    There are a false panel somewhere in this room.

    (The subject is panel, which requires the singular verb is.)

    Faulty

    Under the stairs lurk a solitary spider.

    (The subject is spider, which requires the singular verb lurks.)

  8. With a linking verb, which needs to agree with its subject, not the word or phrase that renames the subject.

    Faulty

    The bluebell are any of several plants in the lily family.

    (The subject is bluebell, not plants, and requires the singular verb is.)

  9. When the subject is a title or a singular noun ending in -s.

    Faulty

    Gulliver’s Travels are a satire by the eighteenth-century British writer Jonathan Swift.

    (Even though it ends in with a plural word, Gulliver’s Travels is one title and takes a singular verb.)

    Faulty

    Linguistics deal with the study of human speech.

    (Although it ends in -s, linguistics is a singular noun and takes a singular verb.)

How to fix errors

Here are some guidelines for correcting the most common pronoun-antecedent agreement errors:

  1. Make sure the verb agrees with the subject, not with words that come between the subject and verb.

    The number of farm workers havehas remained constant over several decades.

  2. Use a plural verb when two or more subjects are joined by and.

    A dot and a dash represents the letter A in Morse code.

    Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, media magnate Rupert Murdoch, and news correspondent Sam Donaldson waswere born on March 11.

  3. Revise to make the verb agree with the subject closest to it when two or more subjects are joined by or, either…or, or neither…nor.

    When two or more singular subjects are joined by or, either…or, or neither…nor, use a singular verb.

    Math or accounting appearsto be a suitable major for you.

    Either the waiter or the customer havehas misplaced the bill.

    Neither the doctor nor the patient areis pessimistic about the prognosis.

    When one singular and one plural subject are joined by or, either…or, or neither…nor, the verb should agree in number with the subject nearest to it.

    Neither the sailors nor the boat werewas harmed by the storm.

    Neither the boat nor the sailors waswere harmed by the storm.

    Either my daughters or my wife waterwaters that plant daily.

  4. Use a singular verb with most collective nouns, such as family, couple, and class.

    When the members of the group are acting as individuals, however, use a plural verb.

    The school committee havehas voted to increase teachers’ salaries.

    (The committee is acting as a unit.)

    The team isare traveling by train, bus, and bike.

    (The team members are acting individually.)

    To make their meaning clearer and avoid awkwardness, writers often add members or a similar noun.

    The members of the team are traveling by train, bus, and bike.

  5. Use a singular verb with most indefinite pronouns, such as anyone, everyone, each, every, no one, and something. Singular indefinite pronouns include the following: each, either, neither, anyone, anybody, anything, everyone, everybody, everything, one, no one, nobody, nothing, someone, somebody, something.

    Everyone in this room areis welcome to express an opinion.

    Neither of the candidates havehas run for office before.

    Other indefinite pronouns, such as several, both, many, and few, take a plural verb.

    Several of you jogsjog at least three miles a day.

    Some indefinite pronouns, such as all, any, more, most, some, and none, take either a singular or plural verb depending on the noun to which they refer. To decide which verb to use, follow this rule: Treat the indefinite pronoun as singular if it refers to something that cannot be counted and as plural if it refers to more than one of something that can be counted.

    Most of the water gogoes into this kettle.
    (You cannot count water.)

    Some of the children in the study chooses immediate rather than delayed rewards.
    (You can count children.)

  6. Revise to make verbs agree with the antecedents of who, which, and that.

    When a relative pronoun (who, which, that) refers to a singular noun, use a singular verb. When it refers to a plural noun, use a plural verb.

    Toni Morrison, who enjoyenjoys unique success as both a popular and a literary author, won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993.

    Look for stores that displaysdisplay this sign.

    Neither the doctor nor the patient areis pessimistic about the prognosis.

    Using one of the often leads to errors in subject-verb agreement. The phrase one of the plus a noun is plural.

    A pigeon is one of the two birds that drinksdrink by suction.

    However, only one of the plus a noun is singular.

    The cheetah is the only one of the big cats that havehas nonretractable claws.

  7. Revise to make the verb agree with a subject that follows it.

    When a sentence begins with the word here or there (which cannot function as a subject) or with a prepositional phrase, the subject often follows the verb. Look for the subject after the verb and make sure the subject and verb agree.

    There areis a false panel somewhere in this room.

    Under the stairs lurks a solitary spider.

  8. Make sure a linking verb agrees with its subject, not a word or phrase that renames the subject. In sentences with linking verbs, the verb should agree with the subject.

    The bluebell areis any of several plants in the lily family.

  9. Use a singular verb when the subject is a title or a singular noun ending in -s, such as physics or news.

    Gulliver’s Travels areis a satire by the eighteenth-century British writer Jonathan Swift.

    Linguistics deals with the study of human speech.

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