Grammar 101: Essential Rules of Subject-Verb Agreement

Sat, 24 Oct 2020

"Daniel play video games in his free time.” 


At a glance, this sentence looks like it has no typographical errors, nor does it lack a subject, verb or an object. So, in which aspect is it incorrect?


Let’s take a closer look. Daniel, the subject, is singular. Now moving on to the verb play. If you haven’t learned already, we need to add an “s” after singular verbs, and no “s” is needed for plural verbs. Have you discovered the mistake in the sentence now?


To put it simply, the subject and the verb do not agree! The basic concept of subject-verb agreement is that the subject and the verb in a sentence should agree in number, meaning that if a subject is singular, the following verb must be in a singular form as well, and vice versa. 


A basic example to this concept would be : 


The cars are parked outside the building.


Here, we can see that the subject, cars, is plural. Therefore, the verb corresponds with the subject using are, which is a plural verb.


A car is parked outside of the building. 


And in this sentence, the subject is car, a singular noun. Therefore, we use is as the verb, which is singular as well!


Although it seems like a piece of cake, this is a common grammatical error, usually made unconsciously as it is such a small aspect that we often just don’t exactly take much time to think about, especially in conversation. However, these mistakes can be fatal when you are writing an academic paper, manuscript, or even in a job interview. In a professional setting, some might think you’re not a competent English speaker from simply making this error, so watch out!


In some cases, the presence of uncountable nouns, connectives, indefinite pronouns, and other elements usually lead to confusion in determining whether a subject is singular or plural. 


To help you avoid mismatching subjects and its verbs, we’re going to list some fundamental rules that you must not forget, along with some examples for each one!


Rule 1 : The main subject is the one before the word “of”, and that’s the one that needs to agree with the verb!


All you need to remember is that the main subject is the one before “of”, and so that subject determines whether the agreement is in singular or plural. Let’s take a look at an example!


A cup of coffee makes her feel energized in the morning. 


The subject of the sentence is “A cup of coffee”. However, the main subject of the sentence is “a cup”, not “coffee”! Therefore, it is singular and the verb, “makes”, agrees with the subject as it is also singular. 


Rule 2 : Units such as periods of time, distance, and money are considered singular, so pair it with a singular verb!


“Five minutes”, “10 kilometers,” “Three dollars”, are considered singular! Even if it looks like a plural subject, pair it with a singular verb. 


Example : 


There is only five minutes left! 


Two years is quite a long time to forget about somebody.


Rule 3 : Two singular subjects that use the connection either/or, or neither/nor must be paired with a singular verb


When you encounter those connectives, a singular verb is required to make the agreement. 


Example : 


Neither my sister nor my brother is nice to me.


Either coffee or tea works fine for me!


Rule 4 : The verb in sentences consisting of or, either/or, not only/but also, or neither/nor agrees with the noun/pronoun closest to it.


In addition to the previous rule, cases where one subject is singular, and the other plural, the verb must agree with the noun/pronoun located closest to it.


Example : 


Either a private school or public schools sound good to me.


Neither of the wedding dresses nor the ring suits my liking.


Rule 5 : Use a plural verb with subjects connected with “and”!


Subjects like “Roses and lilies”, “a hug and a kiss” agree with a plural verb!


Example : 


My family and friends are very important to me.


Damon and Elena make a really great couple!


Rule 6 : Collective nouns typically take a singular form of the verb!


Although it depends on the writer’s intent or the rest of the sentence, collective nouns such as “staff”, “committee”, and “a school of fish” usually require a singular verb.


Example :


Every staff in the store provides excellent service.


He wants to take part of the school committee.


Rule 7 : Quantifiers always take the plural form!


Quantifier pronouns such as “few”, “many”, “several”, “all”, “both”, and “some” agrees with a plural verb. 


Example : 


Many students were mentally exhausted at the end of the last semester.


Some people are very judgmental of others.


Those are some of the most important rules to look out for to make sure you get your grammar game going strong! You may not get used to it in the beginning, but practice makes perfect! By signing up for a language class in Lingotalk, we’re sure you’ll get a hang of it real quick.


Moreover, you’ll get even more in-depth knowledge on a variety of other essential aspects in English, which is really important if you thrive to be a fluent speaker! 


Book a class now and boost your skills!



Subject Verb Agreement



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