10 Simple Rules: Subject-Verb Agreement based on “10 Subject-Verb Agreement” Rules by Erin Brenner http://thewritingresource.net/2010/08/19/10-subject-verb-agreement-rules/
Person, Tense, and Number • In English, verbs have three distinctions– person, tense and number- that determine their correct form. • Tense refers to when something happened or will happen • Future, present, and past are the most common • Person refers to the relationship between the speaker and the subject. • First person = “I”, Second person = “you”, and third person = “he, she, it, they” • Number refers to whether or not the subject is plural or singular • When we talk about subject-verb agreement rules, we are talking about “third person” because there is no distinction between the singular and plural verb forms in first and second person.
Basic Principle • If the subject is singular, it receives a singular verb. • If the subject is plural, it receives a plural verb • Native English speakers can “sound” out the difference, but even they make mistakes. • There are two difficulties many people have: • Correctly identifying the subject of a sentence • Correctly determining if the subject is singular or plural
What’s a subject? • Every sentence has a subject and a predicate. • The subject of the sentence is always a noun or pronoun that is performing the action (verb) in the sentence. • The predicate of the sentence describes what the subject is doing and always contains the verb. • Do not confuse the subject with the object of the sentence (the noun or pronoun being acted upon). • Ex: Steve went to the store. • Steve is the subject. • Went to the store is the predicate • Went is the verb. • Store is the object.
Rule #1: • A compound subject composed with the word “and” takes a plural verb, unless the intended sense is singular. • She and I run everyday. • If it were just “she” as the subject, the verb would be “runs” because then the subject is singular. • Why isn’t it I “runs” then? • Peanut butter and jelly is my favorite sandwich. • In this case, the idea of peanut butter and jelly is a single object (it’s a kind of sandwich) so it takes the singular verb.
Rule #2 • When a subject is made up of nouns joined by “or”, the verb agrees with the last noun. • She or I run every day. • Potatoes, pasta, or rice pairs well with grilled chicken. • If we reordered this sentence to read “Pasta, rice, or potatoes” what would the verb look like?
Rule #3 • Connectives, phrases such as combined with, coupled with, accompanied by, added to, along with, together with, and as well as, do not change the number of the subject. These phrases are usually set off with commas. • Oil, as well as gas, is a popular heating choice. • Even though it seems like we are talking about oil and gas, and it should take a plural verb, we don’t. We ignore the phrase offset by the commas and instead agree the verb to the singular subject “oil” • Peanut butter combined with bread and jelly is a tasty snack. • Here, the peanut butter, bread, and jelly are one unit, a sandwich, so no commas are needed. However, we still ignore the phrase “combined with bread and jelly” and take the singular verb.
Rule #4 • Collective nouns (team, couple, staff, etc.) take either a singular or plural verb, depending on whether the emphasis is on the individual units or on the group as whole. • The football team is practicing night and day for the Super Bowl. • In this sentence, the emphasis is placed on the team as a group, so it takes a singular verb. • Boston’s school committee disagree about what to cut from the school budget. • In this case, the emphasis is placed on the individual units, so it takes a plural verb.
Rule #5 • Like collective nouns, collecting noun phrases (a bunch of, a group of, a set of, etc.) take either a singular or plural verb, depending on whether the emphasis is on the individual units or on the group as whole. • A group of boys were digging in my flower beds! • Emphasis is placed on the individual group members, so we use the plural verb. • A set of 12 dishes is all you need for the dinner party. • Emphasis is placed on the whole group, so we use the singular verb
Rule #6 • Each takes a singular verb. • Each boy is excited about the meet; each is well prepared. • Much like the rules regarding collective nouns, the emphasis matters. Automatically, use of the word “each” places the emphasis on the individuals and so it takes a singular verb.
Rule #7 • None takes a singular verb if what it refers to is singular and a plural verb if its referent is plural. • None of the peas are left on Sean’s plate. • Since “none” is referring to the plural “peas” it will take a plural verb • What is the subject in this sentence? • None of the book is reproducible without permission. • In this case “none” refers to the singular “book” and thus takes a singular verb • What is the subject?
Rule #8 • The phrase “more than one” takes a singular verb (yes, I know that doesn’t sound logical; try to remember that one is followed by something, whether explicitly or implicitly). • More than one box is sitting in the hallway. • More than one is sitting in the hallway.
Rule #9 • With fractions, the verb agrees with the whole. • One-fourth of the books are gone. • Ignore the fraction and look at the whole. In this case, we are talking about “books” which is plural and thus we use a plural verb. • What is the subject of this sentence? • One-fourth of the sand is white. • Sand is singular (we can’t count it) and thus we use the singular verb • What is the subject of this sentence?
Rule #10 • With money, if the amount is specific, use a singular verb; if the amount is vague, use a plural verb. • Within a year, $5 million was spent on building a new factory, and millions more were spent on training future factory workers. • Since $5 million is a specific amount, we use the singular verb • Since “millions more” is vague, we use a plural verb