This post contains a comprehensive list of rules that govern subject-verb agreement.
(Note that my comments are enclosed in square brackets () throughout this post.)
Here are the 16 rules:
Singular subject takes singular verb and plural subject takes plural verb.
This is the most-commonly used rule on subject-verb agreement and will serve your purpose on most occasions.
Rama blinks every few seconds.
Rama and her friend blink every few seconds.
He eats frequently. That’s why he is obese.
The siblings eat frequently. That’s why they are obese.
City A is the host for the next games.
Cities A and B are the co-hosts for the next games.
However, this rule has exceptions.
Singular subjects ‘I’ and ‘you’ take plural verbs.
I blink every few seconds.
You eat frequently. That’s why you are obese.
I have refused to participate in the event.
This rule doesn’t apply to simple past tense without helping verbs.
The student made merry in absence of the teacher.
The students made merry in absence of the teacher.
This rule doesn’t apply to following helping verbs when they’re used with a main verb.
- Will/ Would
- Shall/ Should
- Can/ Could
- May/ Might
He must go to the college today. We must go to the college today.
[The first is singular. The second, plural. But both take the same form of verb. The next example too follows the same pattern.]
David can lift the suitcase. David and Mac can lift the suitcase.
Note that simple future tense is covered by ‘will’ and ‘shall’.
Words that come between subject and verb do not affect the number (singular or plural) of the verb.
So, ignore intermediary words for the purpose of matching a subject with its verb. Well, this isn’t really an independent rule, but it helps in applying the first rule better.
The price of tomatoes has gone through the roof in the last two weeks.
A consortium of banks has lent USD 200 million to ABC Limited.
If you want to learn other grammar rules and practice exercises, you may have a look at rules on prepositions (with examples and quizzes) and exercises on prepositions.
A linking verb takes the form of its subject.
(For the uninitiated, a linking verb, unlike the action verb, doesn’t show any action. It serves the limited purpose of connecting one idea to the other. For example, in the sentence ‘the cat is hungry’, ‘is’ is linking verb. It’s not showing any action.)
The problem with this situation is that there are many directions one can proceed in. [Comment: Here, the linking verb ‘is’ takes the form of its subject ‘problem’ and not that of ‘many directions’.]
What I demand is honesty and hard work in your job.
Here is the book you’re looking for.
A compound subject comprising of two or more nouns joined by ‘and’ requires a plural verb.
A lion and a tiger don’t cross paths in the wild because their habitats don’t overlap.
The car and the bike, both, were vandalized.
Ramesh and Abhishek were absent in the class yesterday.
Compound subjects qualified by ‘each’ or ‘every’ take singular verbs.
Every spoon, plate, and glass was on the floor, a likely act of the cat.
Every man and woman in the lobby is requested to proceed to the conference room.
Certain subjects separated by ‘and’ are so inseparable that they’re considered singular and hence they take singular verbs.
The long and short of it is…
Give and take is common in negotiations.
Rarely has bread and butter not been served in the breakfast at our hostel.
A singular subject takes a singular verb even if other nouns are connected to it by
- As well as
- In addition to
- Together with
- No less than
He as well as his friends was denied entry to the club.
The government together with NGOs was able to make the campaign a success.
He, with help from his friends, has managed to complete the project in time.
Use a singular verb form after:
Neither of the two invited speakers has come.
Everyone in the group takes turns to cook dinner.
Each of us has a smartphone.
Nobody ever goes to that fort. It’s haunted.
I know someone who invests in shares.
Two singular subjects connected with
- Either/ or
- Neither/ nor
- Not only/ but also
take a singular verb.
Neither the escalator nor the elevator is working.
He has failed in not only math but also chemistry.
However, if one subject is singular and the other plural, use the verb form of the subject that is closest to the verb.
Neither the bears nor the lion has escaped from the zoo. [Comment: The verb in this example is closest to the subject ‘lion’ and hence takes singular form ‘has’.]
Neither the lion nor the bears have escaped from the zoo.
Use a singular verb form after ‘none’ when the word means ‘no one’ or ‘not one’.
I’ve been looking for inspiration, but none has struck so far.
None of us is perfect.
None was injured in the accident.
We interviewed ten candidates. None was good.
However, use a plural verb when ‘none’ suggests more than one thing or person.
I’ve been looking for ideas to start a business, but none have struck so far.
Use a plural verb form in a relative clause following ‘one of…’ or a similar expression when the relative is the subject.
He is one of those guys who have never cheated in exams. [Comment: ‘Those guys’, and not ‘he’, is the matching subject here.]
He is one of those people who are always late.
He is one of the fittest cricketers who are still playing international cricket.
One of the findings of the recent experiments that were published in the last edition of the journal particularly stands out. [Comment: In this example, ‘recent experiments’ were published, and hence a plural verb.]
One of the findings of the recent experiments was published in the last edition of the journal. [Comment: In this example, ‘one of the findings’ was published, and hence a singular verb.]
Some nouns such as news, physics, statistics, economics, gymnastics, aerobics, measles, mumps, and headquarters that end in ‘s’ seem to be plural but are actually singular, and hence they take singular verbs.
Politics is full of uncertainties.
The global headquarters of Morgan Stanley is in New York City.
There is strong evidence that aerobics boosts our ability to concentrate.
Some nouns such as those in the table below exist only in plural form and hence they take a plural verb.
|Clothing||Tools and instruments|
My clothes are dirty.
I bought these sunglasses yesterday. Do you like them?
You can use ‘pair of’ to refer to a particular example of nouns that have two identical parts. Few examples of nouns with two identical parts: Pants, shorts, earrings, gloves, glasses, and binoculars. Please note that you can’t say ‘pair of stairs’ or ‘pair of savings’ because ‘stairs’ and ‘savings’ don’t have two identical parts.
My new pair of jeans isn’t a good fit.
The brown pair of shoes on the top shelf is too expensive.
Collective nouns such as class, committee, herd, public, crew, team, government, company, audience, and group usually take singular verbs.
Herd of cows is grazing.
The committee has recommended banning construction till the AQI index goes below 200.
The audience was asleep by the time the speech finished.
When a collective noun is considered as a collection of individuals (as opposed to a single unit), it takes a plural verb. This is an uncommon use, though.
The audience were all cheering for the home team.
Uncountable nouns usually take singular verbs. (As the name suggests, uncountable nouns can’t be counted. Example: hair, milk, water, butter, honey, and syrup.)
Milk is not one of my favorite foods.
Honey is dripping from his hand.
My hair looks shiny because I shampooed them few hours back.
There is jam in the bottle. [There are marbles in the jar.]
The perfume has such an intoxicating fragrance.
Abstract nouns usually take singular verbs.
Truth eventually prevails.
Hatred has no limit.
The fragrance of this perfume is so overpowering.
Distances, periods of time, sums of money etc. take singular verbs when considered as a unit.
Five days is not enough to prepare this report.
Hundred dollars is a steep price for this pair of shoes.
Five kilometers is a long distance to walk.
Two liters of milk easily fills this container.
Expressions representing portion such as ‘one-third of’, ‘majority of’, and ‘part of’ take a singular (plural) verb if a singular (plural) noun follows ‘of’.
Nearly half of the work remains unfinished.
Barely 10 percent of the road has been laid so far.
One-third of the students were absent today.
Majority of the cabs are off street today because of strike.
Majority of the voters haven’t yet voted.