Need-to-know Grammar: Subject/Verb Agreement

May 11, 2006

A singular subject must have a singular verb; a plural subject must have a plural verb.

Look for the subject of the sentence and determine whether it is singular or plural.

If you see a preposition, ignore the nouns or pronouns in the prepositional phrase. Consider crossing out the prepositional phrase so that it does not distract you from the subject of the sentence.

A group of students were studying for the test.

This sentence is incorrect. The subject is "group," which is singular. Ignore the prepositional phrase "of students" and use a verb that agrees with the subject of the sentence.

A group of students was studying for the test.

This sentence is correct.

Any modifying phrase or clause that comes between the subject and the verb must be ignored when determining subject/verb agreement.

The football player, in addition to the rest of the team, were awarded a trophy.

This sentence is incorrect. The subject is "football player," which is singular. The verb is "were," which is plural. Ignore the phrase between the subject and the verb and correct the number of the verb.

The football player, in addition to the rest of the team, was awarded a trophy.

This sentence is correct.

The following sentence has a dependent clause between the subject and the verb:

The song that they are playing in all the clubs are my favorite.

This sentence is incorrect because the singular subject, "song," does not agree with the plural verb, "are." Ignore the words that come between the subject and the verb to correct the sentence.

The song that they are playing in all the clubs is my favorite.

When subjects in a sentence are linked by "either/or" or "neither/nor," the subject that is closer to the verb will determine the number of the verb. The following sentences demonstrate subject/verb agreement in this type of structure:

Either the dogs or the cat has knocked over the vase.

Either the cat or the dogs have knocked over the vase.

Consider crossing off all the words from "either" to "or" (or "neither" to "nor") to help you determine the number of the subject.

Neither my brothers nor my sister are coming to the show.

This sentence is incorrect. Since "sister" is closer to the verb and is singular, the verb must be singular.

Neither my brothers nor my sister is coming to the show.

This sentence is correct.

  • Read examples of sentences with errors in subject/verb agreement at Celebrity Grammar and Celebrity Usage.
  • Take these interactive quizzes to practice identifying subject/verb agreement: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
  • If you make any mistakes on the quizzes that you do not understand, copy the text and paste it into a comment. We will try to explain your error to you.
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