What is the Subject-Verb Agreement in English Grammar? The subject-verb agreement can be defined as the agreement of a subject and its corresponding verb in a sentence in reference to the number.
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Also referred to as verb-subject concord, the existing agreement between a subject and its verb is governed by a series of rules and principles that determine how the two relate. In other words, both the verb and its subject must be in either singular or in the plural as dictated by a set of rules, unless otherwise.
Examples to help you understand the concept better:
- His little sister is playing with her new toy — singular.
For this sentence, the subject is “his little sister” and the verb is “playing”.
- Their little sisters are playing with their new toys outside — plural.
For this sentence, the subjects are “the little sisters” and the verb is “playing”.
So worth noting is that the principles of the subject-verb agreement only apply to finite verbs [External Link] that are in the present tense, and in some way, to the past tense of the verbs to be, such as was and were.
Examples in a sentence:
- The dog eats minced meat.
- The dogs eat minced meat.
- Mary loves fishing.
- Mary and her friends love fishing.
From the sentence, a singular subject is only grammatically correct when its corresponding verb is in the singular, as well.
The same can be said about a plural subject, which is only grammatically correct when the corresponding verb is in the plural, as well.
Rules Governing Subject-Verb Agreement:
Rule 1 (The Basic Rule): As already mentioned, a singular subject should only take a singular verb. Same for a plural subject, which should only take a plural verb.
It’s to be however noted that verbs pluralize in the opposite fashion as nouns. Where you’ll be adding an “s” to a noun to pluralize it, you’ll be adding it to a verb to make it singular.
- So play becomes plays in the singular.
- Run becomes runs in the singular.
- Cheat becomes cheats in the singular … and so forth.
Examples in a sentence:
- cat chases dog.
The subject cat is in the singular and so is the verb chases.
- Cats chase dogs.
The subject cats are in the plural and so is the verb chase.
- June loves reading.
The subject June is in the singular and so is the verb loves.
- June and her siblings love reading.
The subject June and her siblings are in the plural and so is the verb love.
- The road that leads to heaven is narrow.
The subject road is in the singular and so is the verb leads.
- The roads that lead to heaven are narrow.
The subject roads are in the plural and so are the verb lead.
Rule 2: When there’s a Prepositional Phrase Between the subject and the Verb.
Prepositions are the words that both govern and precede a noun or pronoun, and they’re meant to express the relationship the word has to another word or element within the same clause. Examples include of, over, at, on, in, under, beneath and so forth.
Prepositional phrases, on the other hand, signify a group of words that don’t feature a verb or subject, and which functions as a unified part of a speech.
Examples include: after, about, during, in, for, over, past, up, with, to, and with, to name a few.
Where a sentence features a prepositional phrase, the object of the preposition is treated as the subject of the sentence even when it’s NOT in the real sense.
For instance, a pack of wolves. If this phrase appears in a sentence, then the word “pack” will be considered the subject of that sentence and NOT wolves.
Examples in a sentence:
- A pack of wolves lives in the nearby forest. Here the subject pack is in the singular, so it makes grammatical sense to pair it up with a verb that’s also in the singular.
Packs of wolves live in the nearby forest. “Packs” is the subject in this, and is in the plural and so is the verb “live” that’s paired up with.
Rule 3: Expressions that indicate amount or quantity that are treated as a unit should take up singular verbs.
Examples include 10 dollars, 20 kilometers, 50 liters and so forth.
Examples in a sentence.
- 10 dollars is enough money to pay for uber.
- 20 kilometers is all the distance we have to run.
- 50 liters is a lot of milk.
Any subject that’s joined by the conjunction “and” will be taking up a plural verb.
Examples in a Sentence.
- Cate and James travel a lot.
- The cat and the dog love playing together.
- Rice and beef make a good dish.
- Mother and daughter love walking together.
A few exceptions apply here, when a compounded word in the plural is popularly used together, then it’s grammatically regarded as singular.
- Cooked potatoes and beef is one of my favorite delicacies.
- The mastermind and mover of the group are NOT playing today.
- Egg and bread is my favorite breakfast meal.
Rule 5: Coordinated Noun Phrases.
If the subject consists of coordinated noun phrases, the verb agreement will be in accordance with the second noun phrase should they happen to differ in number.
- Either John or his brothers are planning to attend the meeting.
- Neither my uncles or mother is attending the meeting.
Rule 6: Indefinite Pronouns and Collective Nouns.
Collective nouns [External Link] in the line of family, furniture, majority, team, and minority or any noun that encompasses a group of individuals can either take up a singular or plural verb depending on context and the meaning it’s conveying.
- The family has traveled.
- The majority of the students won’t be attending my class.
- The majority is in attendance.
Singular in-form nouns such as rest, remainder, and number take up the plural forms in certain contexts, but their number is mostly dependent on the modifier.
- The rest of the chairs are needed in the church.
- A number of students are attending the teacher’s wedding.
The same system of the subject-verb agreement also applies to indefinite pronouns such as all, enough, and some.
Examples in a Sentence:
- Some of the students are attending the meeting.
- All the biscuits were thrown away.
And when the subject modified is singular, the sentence changes to a singular form:
- The rest of the cake was eaten.
- All the bread was thrown away.
A Must Watch Video Lesson on Subject-Verb Agreement:
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References [External Link]:
- Singular or Plural? Subject-Verb Agreement in English Grammar [Youtube]
- Subject-Verb Agreement- towson