Do Your Subjects & Verbs Always Agree?

by ProWritingAid Oct 24, 2016, 0 Comments

Do your subjects and verbs always agree?

We know that a singular subject goes with a singular verb, and a plural subject goes with a plural verb. This is fairly straight forward and won’t throw most people off balance.

There are some instances, however, when you might confuse what is the actual subject of the sentence and choose the wrong verb.

Here are a few.

A Case of Separation

Don’t be fooled by preposition phrases or other phrases that are thrown in between your subject and verb.

  • The football coach, along with all of his players, is anxious for the game to begin.

  • The top of the flight of stairs opens into the hallway above.

  • A bouquet of yellow daisies shows off the color of her shoes.

  • The woman with the nine children walks down the aisle.

This last one is especially tricky. The phrase “with the nine children” modifies the noun “woman” and gives us more information about her. But “woman” is still a singular noun.

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are those pesky words that refer to more than one person in a group. The reason they’re pesky is because they’re treated as a singular noun and use a singular verb.

  • The class stands by and watches the teacher have a meltdown.
  • The committee decides whether to change the code.
  • My family has a penchant for puns.
  • The group of teenagers is preparing for the school dance.

To Each Its Own

The following words are considered singular: each, each one, either, neither, everyone, everybody, anyone, anybody, nobody, someone, somebody, and no one.

  • Each of the doors available is closed.
  • Everybody knows who did the deed.
  • Neither is correct.
  • Somebody is liable for these damages.

Keep Your Verbs Close

Another tricky venture is when you use either/or or neither/nor in a sentence. The rule is to match the verb with the noun or pronoun closest to it.

  • Neither the cow nor the farmers stand alone in the field.
  • Either the nearby creeks or the pond feeds into the aquifer.

But this can get awkward sometimes.

  • Neither my friends, my family, nor I am participating in the debates.

Your best bet is to rewrite the sentence so it sounds better.

  • My friends, family, and I are not participating in the debates.

Here and There

These two words beginning a sentence denote that the real subject is going to follow the verb. Match the verb to the noun that follows.

  • There are times in life when pessimism is called for.
  • There is a case for celebrating.
  • Here is one way you could phrase your rhetoric.
  • Here are the keys to your new automobile.

Pay attention to the sneaky "there’s" though. The contraction "there’s" is short for “there is,” but a lot of people today use it instead of “there are” because it flows off the tongue easier.

  • Incorrect: There’s confusing quotes being bantered about the internet.
  • Correct: There are confusing quotes being bantered about the internet.

When the Mood is Subjective

When you express things that are hypothetical, imaginary, wishful, or fanciful, you pair the noun with a plural verb.

  • She wished it were Saturday.
  • I requested he wash his hands before helping me.

Normally, “he wash” doesn’t sound right, but in this case, we’re expressing a subjective mood by requesting something of him.

Exceptions to Every Rule

And, of course, there are exceptions.

Distances, periods of times, sums of money are singular and use a singular verb.

  • Five miles is a fair amount to walk in a day.
  • Twenty years is the maximum sentence the judge can impose.
  • One hundred dollars is a bargain for that old piano.

Except when you use dollars to refer to individual dollar bills:

  • Two dollars were kept in a jar on the sink.

When you use words to indicate portions with a prepositional phrase, you ignore the “Case of Separation” rule above. Instead match the verb to the noun used after “of.”

  • A lot of the pie has already been eaten.
  • A lot of the pies have already been eaten.
  • A third of the school is underfed.
  • A third of the children are underfed.
  • Some of the book is missing.
  • Some of the books are missing.

Confusing? Best to learn these rules before the grammar police come after you. Or before your editor gets a hold of your work.

Let us know what we’ve missed in the comments below. Or point out some other trickier subject/verb issues.

Love grammar? Check out our Grammar Rules Blog and these great posts from our archive:


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