Subject-Verb Agreement Rules and Examples
The Number and Person of the verb must be in agreement with the Number and Person of its Subject. A Singular subject must have a Singular Verb, and a Plural Subject must have a Plural Verb.
- A verb has a Singular or a Plural Number in the Present Tense only.
- When ‘s’ or ‘es’ is added to a verb, it becomes Singular, but when ‘s’ or ‘es’.
Exceptions To Rule 1.
It has been said in Rule 1. above that a Singular Subject takes a Singular Verb and a Plural Subject takes a Plural Verb. There are, however, the following three exceptions to this general rule :
(1) Dare not and Need not
These are the two typical Verbs which in Negative Sentences (where dare and need are followed by not) are used in the Plural form even with Singular Subjects. As—
- He dare not oppose me.
- They dare not oppose me.
- He need not go.
- They need not go.
Note: If dare and need are used in the affirmative sense (i.e. without ‘not’) they take Plural form with the Plural Subject and Singular form with the Singular Subject. As—
- He dares.
- They dare.
- He needs.
- They need.
(2) Verbs of Supposition/ Subjunctive Mood
The second exception to Rule 1 above is that Plural Verb is used with Singular Subjects in sentences expressing mere imagination or impossible hope, wish or condition. As—
- If I were a bird.
- If I were you, I would do it.
- He behaved as if he were our master.
(3) Verbs of Wish/Blessing
The third exception is that in sentences expressing deep and sharp wish, blessing or hope, Plural Verb is used with Singular Subjects. In these sentences the verb is used in the Subjunctive Mood. This use is now confined to a few sentences only. As—
- Long live the King.
- God save the King.
- Lord bless you.
- Long live our friendship.
If two or more Singular Subjects are joined with and, they take verb in the Plural Number. As—
- Ram and Mohan come here every day.
- The father and son work together.
- Lightning and thunder come together.
- Shyam, Mohan and Ashok have come.
If two Singular Nouns point to only one person or thing, they take verb in the Singular Number. As—
- The great poet and scholar is dead.
- My friend and benefactor has come.
- The great warrior and patriot is being honoured.
Note: When two Nouns point to only one person or thing, the article is used only once with the first noun. If the article is used before both the Nouns separately, they would mean to point to two persons or things, and in that case Plural Verb would be used. As—
- The Chief Engineer and the Manager of the factory have agreed.
If two Subjects taken together mean one thing only, they take the verb in the Singular Number. As—
- Bread and butter makes a good breakfast. (Taken together)
- The horse and carriage stands at the door.
- Slow and steady wins the race.
- Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
If two or more Subjects have each or every before them, they take the verb in the Singular Number. Remember that each and every are used before Singular Nouns only. As—
- Each boy and girl has to go.
- Every man, woman and child was glad.
- Each day and each hour is important.
- Every boat and every sailor was lost in the storm.
If two or more Singular Subjects are joined by or, nor, either… or, or neither… nor, they take a Singular Verb. As—
- Either Ram or Shyam is coming today.
- Neither he nor I was there.
- Neither food nor water was available there.
- No boy or girl was present on the field.
If two or more Subjects are joined by or, nor, either … or, or neither … nor, and if they are of different Numbers, the Plural Subject is placed near the verb and the verb is used in the Plural Number. As—
- Neither the teacher nor his students were present there.
- Either Ram or his friends have broken the glass.
- Ram or his brothers are expected to come.
If two or more Subjects are joined by or, nor, either … or, or neither … nor, and if they are of different Persons, the verb is used according to the subject nearest to it. As—
- You or Ram is responsible for it.
- Either you or I am correct.
- Neither he nor you are to blame.
- Either she or you have to do it.
If two or more Subjects are joined by and, and if they are of different Numbers and different Persons, the verb is always used in the Plural Number.
Also, if the subjects have any First Person, the verb will be in First Person Plural, but if there is no First Person, but there is a Second Person, the verb is used in the Second Person Plural Number. As—
- He and I are going.
- My father and I have known him for many years.
- You and he are well known here.
- You and I have done our best.
Rule 10 – Collective Noun and the Verb
With collective Nouns verbs can be used either in the Singular or the Plural Number according to sense.
- If a Collective Noun represents a whole group or a body (institution), it takes a Singular Verb.
- But if the Collective Noun represents a part or parts or division of a body, it takes a Plural Verb.
The important Collective Nouns are: Government, Parliament, Assembly, Council, committee, army, crew, staff, jury, fleet, crowd, majority, mob. As—
- The committee has agreed on this issue. (The verb is Singular because there is no division in the committee.)
- The committee are divided on this issue. (Here the verb is Plural because the committee is divided.)
- The crew is well trained. (Here the verb is Singular because the “crew” represents one undivided group.)
- The crew were taken prisoners. (Here the verb is Plural because the members of the crew have to be taken prisoners separately.)
- The Parliament has elected its Speaker.
- The military were deployed over the troubled area.
- The fleet has touched the shore.
- The Government have decided to introduce the Bill.
- The mob has dispersed.
- The mob have started throwing stones.
- The jury has come to a unanimous verdict.
- The jury are divided in opinion.
Some Nouns appear to be Plural in form, but actually singular in meaning . These nouns take the verb in the singular number. The important Nouns of this type are: News, Wages, Physics, Politics, Mathematics, Economics, Innings (both Singular and Plural), Gallows.
- Politics is not an easy game.
- Mathematics is a difficult subject.
- The wages of sin is death.
- The news is correct.
- Their first innings was disappointing.
Some Nouns appear to be Singular in form, but they are actually Plural in meaning and sense. These nouns take a Plural Verb. The more important of them are—Dozen, score, million, hundred, thousand, people, cattle. As—
- A dozen were injured.
- A million were affected by the drought.
- A score were saved.
- The cattle are grazing.
- The people are satisfied.
If a Subject has such words or phrases as with, together with, along with, in addition to, as well as connected with it, these connected words or phrases do not affect the verb in any way (because they are parenthetical words or phrases) and the verb is used according to the real Subject. As—
- The commander, with all his soldiers, was killed.
- The chief cashier, together with all his men, has been dismissed.
- He, as well as his friends, has failed.
- Ram, like Mohan and Sohan, is fond of pictures.
Note: Such other words and phrases are—like, and not, in addition to, no less than, rather than, more than, unlike, besides, including, excluding.
Rule 14 – Relative Pronoun and Verb
If the Subject of a verb is a Relative Pronoun (who, whom, whose, which, that), the verb is used according to the Number and Person of the Antecedent (i.e. Noun or Pronoun used before it). As—
- I, who am your friend, should help you.
- You, who are my friend, should help me.
- He, who is your friend, should help you.
- The pen, which is in your hand, is mine.
- The book, that is on the table, is very interesting.
- He is one of those boys who work very hard.
If a Plural Noun denotes a definite quantity or number, or amount, or distance, or if it denotes the name of a country or title of a book, it takes a Singular Verb with it. As—
- The United States of America is the most powerful country.
- Gulliver’s Travels is a novel of adventure.
- Sixty miles is not a long distance for a motorist.
- Ten lakh rupees is a huge sum.
- Four quintals is a heavy load for a camel.
Subject-Verb Agreement Rules and Examples
There are certain things which are made of two major parts. Such things are supposed to be in Plural Number and a Plural Verb is used with them. (Such common things are—Trousers, Scissors, spectacles, shears, tongs, etc.) As—
- Your trousers are dirty.
- Your scissors are blunt.
- The tongs are missing.
- Where are your spectacles ?
Note: These things can also be referred to as A pair of ……. In that case only a Singular Verb will be used. As—
- A pair of trousers is ready for you.
- A pair of scissors is on the table.
If the Subject of a sentence is some infinitive/ gerund / phrase / clause, only a Singular Verb will be used. As—
- Walking is a good exercise.
- To work hard is his lot.
- How to reach there is the problem.
- That he is honest is known to all
There are certain Adjectives which, when joined with the Article the, become Plural Nouns. They take the
verb in the Plural Number. (The more common of these adjectives are—Poor, rich, humble, blind, honest, dumb, etc.) As—
- The poor are honest. (“The poor” means “poor men”.)
- The rich are not used to physical labour. (“The rich” means “rich men”.)
- The dumb do not speak.
- The virtuous are respected.
If in a certain sentence the Subject carries its Apposition with it, the verb will be used according to the actual Subject, not according to its Apposition. As—
- I , the Manager of the Mill, am not happy with your work.
- You, my servant, are not loyal to me.
- He, your teacher, was here yesterday.
- We, your students, are playing a match today.
Note: Apposition is the word or phrase used to explain or identify the Subject. In the above sentence ‘the Manager of the Mill’ is the Apposition of the subject I. Similarly, my servant, your teacher, your students are Appositions.
When Adjectives of Quantity (much, more, little, less) are used as subjects, they take a Singular Verb. As—
- Much has already been done.
- Little has been done so far.
- Much more is still needed.
- Much less was expected.
Rule 21 — Numeral Expressions and the Verbs
- A number of is Indefinite number.
- The number of is Definite number.
Therefore A number of + Noun always takes the verb in the Plural Number because Indefinite Number is believed to be Plural.
- A number of boys have come.
- A number of books have been purchased.
- A number of children are playing.
- A number of students are absent.
The number of + Noun takes Singular Verb because Definite Number is believed to be in the Singular Number. As—
- The number of students is going down.
- The number of graduates is increasing.
- The number of employees is fixed.
- The number of guests varies.
In the same way the following are some more phrases showing Indefinite Number / Definite Number in which the same rule applies: many of, a handful of, the rest of, half of, a quarter of, some of, most of, majority of, minority of, part of, percent of, none of, all of, a few of, etc.
Quantitative Expressions and the Verbs
Rule 22—Indefinite Quantity/Definite Quantity.
Some expressions suggest Indefinite / Definite quantity. Quantity whether definite or indefinite is always taken to be in Singular Number. The verb used with it is always in the Singular Number. As—
- Much of milk has turned sour.
- Plenty of tea has gone waste.
- A lot of butter has been purchased.
- A good deal of food was found to be tasteless.
In the same way some other expressions showing Indefinite / Definite Quantity are—a lot of, lots of, heap of, plenty of, half of, a quarter of, some of, much of, most of, part of, all of, rest of, a great deal of.
Note: Some expressions given above under Rules 21 and 22 can express both Number and Quantity. If the noun used after of in these expressions is countable, it would show Number; if it is uncountable, it
would show Quantity. A Plural Verb is used with countable nouns, and a Singular Verb with uncountable nouns.
Rule 23 – Many a/an + Singular Noun, More than one
Look at expressions like these—Many a boy, Many an opportunity, More than one chance. They are all correct expressions. They are Singular in form, but Plural in meaning. Therefore according to their form, they take a Singular Verbs. As—
- Many a boy is absent today.
- Many a ship is lost in the ocean.
- Many an opportunity is missed by negligence.
- More than one chance was given to him.
Note—The above noted expressions can be changed and formed thus also—More boys than one, More opportunities than one, More chances than one. The Subject in all these expressions is Plural, therefore, they require a Plural Verb.
Rule 24 – Singular Collective Noun + of + Plural Noun
There are some expressions in which Plural Nouns are used after Singular Collective Nouns joined with of, as a group of boys, a team of players, a band of singers.
In these expressions the Subjects are group, team, band, and not boys, players, singers (they being Objects of the Preposition of.) Moreover, they are joined into one unit by a Singular Collective Noun. All these will take Singular Verb. As—
- A team of players is staying here.
- A garland of flowers is ready.
- A batch of students is studying here.
- A bunch of grapes has fallen from the creeper.
Some other singular collective nouns are these: a chain of, a garland of, a class of, a bunch of, a series of, a herd of, a flock of, a band of, a set of, a bouquet of, a galaxy of, a fleet of, a pair of, a gang of, etc.
Rule 25 – Hyphenated Expressions/Singular Noun repeated after a Preposition
There are some expressions in which the same Singular Noun is repeated after a certain Preposition. As—wave after wave, ship after ship, brick upon brick, row upon row. With all such expressions Singular Verb is used.
- Ship after ship arrives here.
- Wave after wave follows.
- Brick upon brick is laid.
- Shot after shot was heard.
Rule 26 – As follows
As follows is always used in the Singular Number. Therefore we can never say ‘As follow’. As—
- The conditions are as follows.
- The details of the case are as follows.
- The account of expenditure is as follows.
- The main points are as follows.
Rule 27 – Not only ……… but.
If two subjects are connected by ‘Not only…… but’, the verb should agree in Person and Number with the second subject. As—
- Not only the teacher but all his students were injured.
- Not only I but all my brothers are worried about him.
- Not only his sons but he himself is a great artist.
- Not only they but you are also to blame.
Rule 28 – Nothing but + Noun Singular/Plural
Some sentences begin with ‘Nothing but’, and after this phrase a Singular or a Plural noun comes. In such sentences a Singular Verb is always used whether the noun following it is singular or Plural. The reason is that its subject is Nothing which is always Singular. As—
- Nothing but blue waters was seen.
- Nothing but smoke was there.
- Nothing but ceaseless toil was his lot.
- Nothing but hills is seen there.
Rule 29 – There is/There are
In sentences beginning with There, the verb is or are is used according to the Number of the Noun coming after the verb. As—
- There is a book on the table.
- There are some books on the table.
- There are many chairs.
- There is a chair in the room.
Rule 30 – Verb ‘to be’ + Complement
The verbs ‘to be’ are—am, is, are, was, were. These verbs always take a complement after them. This complement cannot be the subject of the verb ‘to be’. The subject comes before the verb ‘to be’ and the complement comes after it.
In all such sentences the verb should be used according to the subject, and not according to the complement of the verb ‘to be’. As—
- It is I. (Not—It am I.)
- It is they. (Not—It are they.)
- It is my students who won the match. (Not—It are my students)
- My great hope is my sons.
- Here the greatest danger is the snakes.
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