Resources for Subject-Verb Agreement

Rules for Subject-Verb Agreement

1.  A verb must agree with its subject, not with any additive phrase in the sentence such as a prepositional or verbal phrase. Ignore such phrases.

Example: Your copy (of these rules) is on the desk.

Example: The video will not be available until the dispute (over video rights) is settled.

Example: Ms. Hixon's record (of community service, outstanding teaching, and university involvement) qualifies for her promotion.

2.  In an inverted sentence beginning with a prepositional phrase, the verb still agrees with its subject.

Example: At the end of the Christmas holidays come the best sales.

Example: Under the house are some old Mason jars.

3.  Prepositional phrases beginning with the compound prepositions such as along with, together with, in addition to, and as well as should be ignored, for they do not affect subject-verb agreement.

Example: Gladys Knight, as well as the Pips, is riding the midnight train to Georgia.

Example: A driver's license, together with two other pieces of identification, is required.

4.  A verb must agree with its subject, not its subject complement.

Example: Taxes are a problem.

Example: A problem is taxes.

Example: He's a hedonist; his main source of pleasure is food and women.

Example: For some people, a few pounds are no problem.

5.  When a sentence begins with an expletive such as there, here, or it, the verb agrees with the subject, not with the expletive.

Example: Surely, there are several loyal alumni in this area who would be interested in meeting regularly as a group.

Example: There are fifty students in my English composition class.

Example: There are some awful statistics coming out on child abuse.

6.  Indefinite pronouns such as each, either, one, everyone, everybody, and everything are singular.

Example: Somebody in Detroit loves me.

Example: Does either of you have a pencil?

Example: Neither of my parents has a formal education.

7.  Indefinite pronouns such as several, few, both, and many are plural.

Example: Both of my sorority sisters have decided to live off campus.

Example: Few seek the enlightenment of higher education.

8.  Indefinite pronouns such as all, some, most, and none may be singular or plural depending on their referents.

Example: Some of the food is cold.

Example: Some of the vegetables are cold.

Example: I can think of some remarks in retort, but none seem appropriate.

NOTE: None is singular when it means "no one of" or "not a single one."

Example: None of the girls is married.

Example: None of the children is as sweet as Mary Ann.

9.  Fractions such as one-half and one-third may be singular or plural depending on the referent.

Example: Half of the mail has been opened.

Example: Half of the letters have been read.

10.  Subjects joined by and take a plural verb unless the subjects are thought to be one item or unit.

Example: Jim and Tammy are "televangelists."

Example: Guns and Roses is my favorite rock group.

Example: Chicken and dumplings is my favorite holiday dish.

Example: A psychiatric analysis and examination has been done.

11.  In cases where the subjects are joined by or, nor, either . . . or, or neither . . . nor, the verb must agree with the subject closer to it.

Example: Either the teacher or the students are responsible.

Example: Neither the students nor the teacher is responsible.

12.  Relative pronouns, such as who, which, or that, which refer to plural antecedents require plural verbs. However, when the relative pronoun refers to a single subject, the pronoun takes a singular verb.

Example: She is one of the girls who cheer on Friday nights. BUT She is the only one of the cheerleaders who has a broken leg.

13.  Subjects preceded by every, each, and many a are singular.

Example: Every man, woman, and child was given a life preserver.

Example: Each graduate and undergraduate is required to pass a proficiency exam.

Example: Many a tear has to fall, but it's all in the game.

14.  A collective noun, such as audience, faculty, or jury, requires a singular verb when the group is regarded as a whole and a plural verb when the members of the group are regarded as individuals.

Example: The jury has made its decision.

Example: The faculty are preparing their presentations.

15.  Subjects preceded by the number of or the percentage of are singular, while subjects preceded by a number of or a percentage of are plural.

Example: The number of vacationers in Florida is increasing.

Example: A number of vacationers are young people. However, a large percentage of the vacationers are senior citizens.

16.  Titles of books, companies, name brands, and groups are singular or plural depending on their meaning.

Example: Trix are for kids.

Example: Snickers satisfies you.

Example: Great Expectations is my favorite novel.

Example: The Rolling Stones are performing in the Super Dome.

Example: Kiss is also performing.

Example: Cats is my favorite musical.

17.  Certain nouns of Latin and Greek origin have unusual singular and plural forms.

criterion  criteria
alumnus   alumni
datum     data
medium    media

Example: The data are available for inspection.

Example: The only criterion for membership is a high GPA.

18.  Some nouns such as deer, shrimp, and sheep have the same spelling for both their singular and plural forms. In these cases, the meaning of the sentence will determine whether they are singular or plural.

Example: Deer are beautiful animals.

Example: The spotted deer is licking the sugar cube.

19.  Some nouns like scissors, jeans, and wages have plural forms but no singular counterparts. These nouns almost always take plural verbs.

Example: The scissors are on the table.

Example: My Lee jeans fit me like a glove.

20.  Words used as words, not as grammatical parts of the sentence, require singular verbs.

Example: Can't is the contraction for cannot.

Example: Cats is the plural form of cat.

21.  Mathematical expressions of subtraction and division require singular verbs, while expressions of addition or multiplication take either singular or plural verbs.

Example: Ten divided by two equals five.

Example: Five times seven equals (OR equal) thirty-five.

22.  Nouns expressing time, distance, weight, and measurement are singular when they refer to a unit and plural when they refer to separate items.

Example: Fifty yards is a short distance.

Example: Ten years have passed since I finished college.

23.  Expressions of quantity are usually plural.

Example: Nine out of ten dentists recommend Crest.

24.  Some nouns ending in -ics, such as economics and ethics, take singular verbs when they refer to principles, a system or a field of study; however, when they refer to individual practices or applications, they usually take plural verbs.

Example: Ethics is being taught in the spring.

Example: His unusual business ethics get him into trouble.

25.  Some nouns like measles, news, and calculus, which appear plural in form, are actually singular in number. These words take singular verbs.

Example: Measles is a dreadful disease.

Example: Calculus requires great skill in algebra.

26.  A verbal noun (infinitive or gerund) serving as a subject is treated as singular, even if the object of the verbal phrase is plural.

Example: Hiding your mistakes does not make them go away.

Example: To run five miles is my goal.

27.  A noun phrase or clause acting as the subject of a sentence requires a singular verb.

Example: What I need is to be loved.

Example: Whether there is any connection between the two events is unknown.

28.  Plural subjects followed by a singular appositive require a plural verb; similarly, a singular subject followed by a plural appositive requires a singular verb.

Example: When the girls throw a party, they each bring a gift.

Example: The board, all ten members, is meeting today.