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Subject-Verb Agreement

In grammar, agreement means that there is a grammatical match between words. In a sentence, subjects and verbs must agree in person (first, second, third) and number (singular, plural). Here are a few tricky situations to watch for.

Compound Subject

A compound subject is created by joining two nouns with the coordinating conjunctions and, or, or nor. For a compound subject with and, the subject and the verb take a plural form. For a compound subject with or or nor, the verb agrees with the noun that is closest to the verb. The following examples explain subject-verb agreement with nor.

Example Explanation
Neither the cat nor the dogs like to go to the vet. The subject "the dogs" is closest to the verb "like" and is plural; therefore, the verb is also plural.
Neither the dogs nor the cat likes to go to the vet.  Now the subject "cat" is closest to the verb "likes" and is singular, so the verb is also singular.

Words Separating the Subject and Verb

To make sentences more varied or to add more information to a sentence, you may wish to place a phrase or clause between the subject and verb. It is important to make sure you can identify the subject in such a sentence to ensure it agrees with the verb.

Example Explanation
The box with all her books is too heavy to lift.   The prepositional phrase "with all her books" comes between the singular subject "box" and the singular verb "is".
The books that Peter gave me are on the bed.   The dependent clause "that Peter gave me" comes between the plural subject "books" and the plural verb "are".

Indefinite Pronoun

An indefinite pronoun refers to something unspecified. Many indefinite pronouns take a singular verb; however, there are exceptions. In some cases an indefinite pronoun needs a plural verb. See below for common indefinite pronouns.

Always Takes a Singular Verb

anybody, anyone, anything, each, everybody, everyone, everything, much, nobody, no one, nothing, somebody, someone, something

Always Takes a Plural Verb

both, few, many, several

May Take a Singular or Plural Verb

all, any, more, most, none, some

Example Explanation
Everybody cheers when the blue team scores.  The subject "everybody" refers to each individual within the group, so the verb "cheers" is singular.
Some fans cheer when the blue team scores. The indefinite pronoun "some" refers to the plural "fans," so the verb "cheer" is plural.
Some of the popcorn falls to the ground when the fan jumps up to cheer.   Now, "some" refers to "popcorn," so the verb "falls" is singular.

Collective Noun

A collective noun refers to a group of people or things. Some common collective nouns are

  • group,
  • team,
  • family, and
  • class.

Use a singular verb when the collective noun refers to the group acting as a single unit.

Example Explanation
The team celebrates a win with a pizza party.   The team is celebrating as a single unit, so a singular verb "celebrates" is used.

Use a plural verb when the collective noun refers to the individuals within the group acting independently.

Example Explanation
After the game, the team shower and change their clothes. The subject "team" refers to each individual showering and changing clothes independently, so plural verbs are needed.

Inverted Sentence Order

Most sentences in English place the subject before the verb. However, in some sentences, the order is reversed. This often occurs with the words there and here.

Example Explanation
Here is the pizza you ordered. The subject of this sentence is the singular "pizza," so the verb is also singular.
Here are the pizzas you ordered.  Now, the subject "pizzas" is plural, so the verb is plural.