Subject – Verb Agreement : Introduction
One must keep in mind a few relations between subject and verb while a sentence is being formed. The verb always follows the respective subject of the sentence according to the rule of grammar. Singularity or plurality of the verb is chosen according to the subject whether it is singular in form or plural in form. Remember, never change the subject following the verb of the sentence. Let’s go through a few such relations between subject and verb. We are bound to follow these relations, that is why it is called an agreement.
Generally, a singular subject does not take ‘-s’, ‘-es’ at the end of it. Whereas a verb shows the opposite character, it takes ‘-s’ with it when in the singular form. Uncountable nouns take singular verbs.
1. Singular subject takes singular verb
When there is a single subject in a sentence, we use the singular form of the verb in the sentence. e.g.,
- Ravi is at home now.
- He was with me yesterday.
- There was a cat under the table.
- Ravi does not like movies.
- Does anyone know me?
2. Plural subject takes plural verb
When there is a plural subject in a sentence, we use the plural form of the verb in the sentence. e.g.,
- They are playing football.
- There are twenty boys in the room.
- Some potatos are rotten in the busket.
- Rajesh’s brothers like movies.
- Do they know me?
3. Two singular subjects combined with ‘and‘ takes a plural verb
When two singular subjects are combined with ‘and’, a plural verb is used. e.g.,
- Ravi and Raju do not like movies.
- Red and black are my favourite colors.
- He and his wife quarrel a lot.
- Q and O have circles in their shapes.
Remember! There is an exception to the above-mentioned rule
When two singular subjects after being combined with ‘and’ express a singular thought of a single unit, a singular verb is used. e.g.,
- Bread and butter is my favourite food.
- Slow and steady wins the race.
- Wider security and surveillance is needed to prevent child trafficiking.
4. Verb follows the first subject in case of –
When two or more subjects are connected by –
'with', 'along with', 'together with', 'as well as', 'like', 'unlike', 'besides', 'in addition to', 'and not', 'rather than', 'no less than', 'nothing but', 'except', 'more (pl. n.) than one', etc.
– the verb follows the first subject. e.g.,
- Mr Sharma along with his friends is there in the meeting.
- Pintu and not his sons has tested positive.
- He besides his brother was seen in the meeting.
- My brothers as well as I are ready for the show.
5. Verb follows the second subject in case of –
When two subjects are combined with ‘either … or’, ‘neither … nor’, ‘not only … but also‘, ‘none … but‘, etc., the verb will be used according to the immediate (last) subject.
'either ... or', 'neither ... nor', 'not only ... but also', 'none ... but', etc.
- Neither he nor his wife walks in the morning.
- Neither he nor his brothers walk in the morning.
- Either Biju or his sisters are going to attend the concert.
Remember! There is an exception to the above-mentioned rule
When two subjects are combined with ‘either … or’ or ‘neither … nor’ and one of them is ‘I’, ‘I’ should come last and it will have its agreement with the verb.
- Either she or I am to post the letter.
- Neither my friends nor I am going there.
6. Singular verb is used with uncountable noun
When there is an uncountable noun as the subject, we use a singular verb. e.g.,
- Water is colourless.
- Hard work has its own result.
7. Singular verb is used in case of –
We always use a singular verb with the subjects mentioned below –
each, every, each one, one, everyone, either, neither, everybody, anybody, somebody, nobody, anyone, etc.
- Each of the boys was given a pen.
- Every boy was given a whole loaf of bread.
- Each one of the girls was dressed in red.
- One of the men was an old friend of mine.
- Neither of the girls was ready for the go.
- Somebody has to do the task.
8. Use of ‘all’ and ‘none’
When ‘all’ is used separately as a subject it means ‘everything’ and it takes a singular verb. But when it is used as an adjective before a plural noun, a plural verb is used. ‘none‘ basically is singular but, we use the verb according to the sense of the sentence. e.g.,
- All is well.
- All students are there in the class
- None was there when the concert was over.
- None have brought mask from home.
Exception for ‘all’!
Q. Are all the students present there?
A. Yes, all the students present in the class Or, Yes, all are present
9. Use of ‘one of the’
The phrase ‘one of the’ when used in a single clause, it takes a singular verb. But when another clause is used then a plural verb is used. e.g.,
- One of the students has done it.
- She is one of the students who have scored more than 80%.
10. Use of ‘a number of’ & ‘the number of’
‘A number of’ takes plural verb but ‘the number of’ takes a singular verb. e.g.,
- A number of students are there in the class.
- The number of students present in the class is making noise.
11. In case of sum of amount / period / distance
A singular verb is used with sum of amount or sum of period or sum of the distance. e.g.,
- 100 dollars is a big amount. (100 dollars are in my pocket)
- 50 years is a long period. (50 years have passed)
- Ten miles is a long distance. (Ten miles are to go before I sleep.)
12. Use of ‘the’ for single and multiple subjects
If ‘the’ is used which is the first designation only then a singular verb is used. But, when ‘the’ is used with two positions or designations, it is thought that two persons are holding the two positions and then a plural verb is used. e.g.,
- The black and white tiger has longer tail. (one tiger of black and white in color)
- The black and the white tiger have longer tails. (two tigers, one is black & another one is of white in color)
13. In case of use of ‘the’ before an adjective only
When ‘the’ is used before an adjective, the adjective becomes a plural common noun and then a plural verb is used. e.g.,
- The rich are not always happy.
- The poor are not always dishonest.
14. In case of relative pronoun and antecedent
When in a sentence a relative pronoun is used, the verb should be used according to the antecedent. e.g.,
- These are the boys who were there yesterday. (here, boys is antecedent and who is relative pronoun)
15. In case of a plural noun is a proper noun or a collective noun
If a plural noun is a proper name of a single object or a collective unit, we use a singular verb. e.g.,
- The United Nations has six main organs.
- The jury has given its opinion. (but, The jury were devided in their opinions.)
16. In case of name of book, story, play, etc.
A singular verb is used with the name of book, story, play, etc. e.g.,
- The Arabian Nights is a magnificent collection of ancient tales.
- Great Expectations is the thirteenth novel by Charles Dickens.
- Wuthering Heights concerns two families of the landed gentry living on the West Yorkshire moor.
17. A few phrases take past simple form of verbs
There are a few phrases in English that directly take the simple past form of verbs.
It is long since; It is time; It is the time; It is high time; It is about time; It is right time; Now is the time; It is just as well that; etc.
- It is high time we started studying.
- It is about time you left the place.
- It is just as well that I brought an umbrella.
18. In case of imaginary conditionals
In case of imaginary conditionals or subjunctive moods, we use ‘were‘ as the verb. e.g.,
- I wish I were a bit taller.
- If I were a king, I should build a palace.
- If he were there, he would enjoy the movie.
- I would do that if I were you.
19. In case of ‘more than one’
‘More than one‘ is followed by a singular noun and a singular verb. But, ‘More (pl. n.) than one‘ is followed by a plural noun and a plural verb. e.g.,
- More than one man was injured in the accident.
- More men than one were injured in the accident.
20. In case of a fractional subject
In case of a fractional uncountable subject, we use a singular verb. but for a fractional countable subject, we use a plural verb. e.g.,
- Two third of the land was flooded.
- Two third of the soldiers were unarmed.
21. In case of Absolute Singular Nouns as subject
In case of absolute singular nouns, we use singular verbs in the sentence. e.g.,
- Some information was received by the errand boy.
22. In case of Absolute Plural Nouns as subject
In case of absolute plural nouns, we use plural verbs in the sentence. e.g.,
- His spectacles seem too old.
23. In case of Nouns look Singular but actually are Plural as subject
In case of nouns look singular but actually are plural, we use plural verbs in the sentence.
- Cattle are grazing in the field.
24. In case of Nouns look Plural but actually are Singular as subject
In case of nouns look plural but actually are singular, we use singular verbs. e.g.,
- This news has nothing new in it.
25. In case of ‘many’
Study the given examples carefully to understand the meaning.
- Many girls are dancing beneath the green great banyan tree.
- Many a girl is dancing beneath the green great banyan tree.
- A many girls are dancing beneath the green great banyan tree.
- A great many girls are dancing beneath the green great banyan tree.
- A good many girls are dancing beneath the green great banyan tree.
NOTE: In many a girl, ‘a’=’one’ and ‘many‘ is a numeral adjective meaning many times, hence many a girl is equivalent to many times one girl, so the verb following is put in the singular. In a great many girls, ‘many’ has the force of a noun of multitude, the preposition of is understood after it. Therefore the verb following is put in the plural. –P. Bhattacharyya