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20 Rules of Subject Verb Agreement in Standard English

Grammar is not as static a science as is typically assumed, but there are 20 rules of subject verb agreement that attempt to objectify part of the English language form. Most of the concepts of subject verb agreement are straightforward, yet some aspects of singular and plural usage in English grammar are more complicated.

What are the Rules?

1. Subjects and verbs must agree in number. This is the cornerstone rule that forms the background of the concept.
  • The baby cries when he is angry.
  • The babies cry when they are angry.
2. Don’t get confused by the words that come between the subject and verb; they do not affect agreement.
  • The dog, who is chewing on my jeans, is usually very good.
  • The flowers, which thrives in our backyard, are very appealing to the eyes
3. Prepositional phrases between the subject and verb usually do not affect agreement.
  • The colors of the rainbow are beautiful.
  • One of the universities in Pampanga is implementing a new academic calendar.
4. When sentences start with “there” or “here,” the subject will always be placed after the verb, so care needs to be taken to identify it correctly.
  • There is a problem with the billing information.
  • Here are the documents you requested.
5. Subjects don't always come before verbs in questions. Make sure you accurately identify the subject before deciding on the proper verb form to use.
  • Does Horsy usually eat grass?
  • Where are the pieces of this puzzle?
6. If two subjects are joined by and, they typically require a plural verb form.
  • The president and the vice president are from different political parties.
  • My father and I will go to fishing today.
7. The verb is singular if the two subjects separated by and refer to the same person or thing.
  • Red beans and rice is my mom's favorite dish.
  • Bread and cheese has been my favorite snack
8. If one of the words each, every, or no comes before the subject, the verb is singular.
  • No smoking or drinking is allowed.
  • Every man and woman is required to check in.
9. If the subjects are both singular and are connected by the words or, nor, neither/nor, either/or, and not only/but also the verb is singular.
  • Miguel or Christian is to blame for the accident.
  • Neither Melissa nor Cathy was present yesterday.
10. The only time when the object of the preposition factors into the decision of plural or singular verb forms is when noun and pronoun subjects like some, half, none, more, all, etc. are followed by a prepositional phrase. In these sentences, the object of the preposition determines the form of the verb.
  • All of the chicken is gone.
  • All of the chickens are gone.
11. The singular verb form is usually used for units of measurement or time.
  • Four quarts of oil was required to get the car running.
  • Two thirds of the members of the congress believes that president is responsible for the incident.
12. If the subjects are both plural and are connected by the words or, nor, neither/nor, either/or, and not only/but also, the verb is plural.
  • Dogs and cats are both available at the pound.
  • The president and the former PNP chief are both responsible for the misencounter.
13. If one subject is singular and one plural and the words are connected by the words or, nor, neither/nor, either/or, and not only/but also, you use the verb form of the subject that is nearest the verb.
  • Either the bears or the lion has escaped from the zoo.
  • Neither the lion nor the bears have escaped from the zoo.
14. Indefinite pronouns typically take singular verbs. *
  • Everybody wants to be loved.
  • Nobody has qualified for the special promotion.
15. * Except for the pronouns (few, many, several, both, all, some) that always take the plural form.
  • Few were left alive after the flood.
  • Many still harbor doubts about true intention of China.
16. If two infinitives are separated by and they take the plural form of the verb.
  • To walk and to chew gum require great skill.
  • To sketch and to paint are his professional work.
17. When gerunds are used as the subject of a sentence, they take the singular verb form of the verb; but, when they are linked by and, they take the plural form.
  • Standing in the water was a bad idea.
  • Swimming in the ocean and playing drums are my hobbies.
18. Collective nouns like herd, senate, class, crowd, etc. usually take a singular verb form.
  • The school faculty is to join a national workshop next week.
  • The herd is stampeding.
19. Titles of books, movies, novels, etc. are treated as singular and take a singular verb.
  • The Burbs is a movie starring Tom Hanks.
  • The Lord of the Rings is my favorite movie.
20. Final Rule – Remember, only the subject affects the verb!

Practice Test - Give it a try!

1. Either the physicians in this hospital or the chief administrator ____ (is, are) going to have to make a decision. 

2. ____ (Is, Are) my boss or my sisters in the union going to win this grievance? 

3. Some of the votes ____ (seem, seems) to have been miscounted. 

4. The tornadoes that tear through this county every spring ____ (is, are) more than just a nuisance. 

5. Everyone selected to serve on this jury ____ (has, have) to be willing to give up a lot of time. 

6. Luke Miguel, together with his teammates, ____ (present, presents) a formidable opponent on the basketball court. 

7. He seems to forget that there ____ (is, are) things to be done before he can graduate. 

8. There ____ (has, have) to be some people left in that town after yesterday's flood. 

9. Some of the grain ____ (appear, appears) to be contaminated. 

10. Three-quarters of the students ____ (is, are) against the tuition hike. 

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