Subject Verb Agreement
A key element of writing at any level is subject-verb agreement. The number of subjects must agree with the verb. A singular subject should have a single verb. A group of subjects should have a plural verb. The guide below examines key elements of subject-verb agreement.
Example: Singular subject
When writing in the present tense we use a +s/-s rule for singular and plural. This means if the subject is singular (-s) then the verb should be singular (+s)
The girl sings a song every day.
Note the subject (girl) is singular and has no s on the end. The verb (sings) is also singular but has an s on the end. This is the +s/-s rule.
Example: Plural subject
If the subject is plural then the verb also has to be plural. The subject will have an -s ending (+s) and the plural verb will be without the -s ending (-s).
They drove to the market
Example: Compound subject (two separate subjects)
When you have two subjects in a sentence separated by the word and you create a compound subject. A compound subject can be two singular subjects (boy and girl), a singular and a plural (girl and dogs), or two plural subjects (dogs and cats). In this case you use a plural verb.
The student and professor write long emails. (Compound subject-two singulars)
The books and papers sit on the desk. (Compound subject-two plurals)
In some cases, subject-verb agreement can be more difficult. Below are more complex examples that require more careful consideration.
Example: Phrase between subject and verb.
When a phrase comes between the subject and the verb it is important that you still have subject-verb agreement. The verb must agree with the subject of the sentence, not the noun or pronoun of the phrase that comes between the subject and verb.
The team, as well as the fans, is excited to make the post-season.
In this example the team is the subject of the sentence. The underlined phrase is an addition to the sentence that acts as a side note to the subject. If you removed the underlined phrase the rest of the sentence becomes a simple form of a singular subject needing a singular verb.
The team is excited to make the post-season.
Another example would be:
The captain with all the awards is the star of the team.
Again, the underlined passage adds description or additional detail. Just as with the previous example, removing the underlined passage still allows the sentence to stand on it's own. The subject is the captain and the verb is tied to the subject. Both are singular.
Example: 2+ singular nouns/pronouns connected by or/nor
Sentences using "or" or "nor" connect two subjects. However, because they act as a joint subject (combined as one) rather than a compound subject, we treat the subject as singular.
The author or editor writes the summary.
The mayor, law director or president of council sign the paperwork.
In each case above there is more than one noun. The “or” creates a connecting link between the nouns to create a singular subject rather than a compound subject. A basic rule is…
Or and nor mean just one, but and is two or more.