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Subject-Verb Agreement: Rules & Practice

Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
Subject-verb agreement can be very difficult but it is vital to effective writing and speech. In this lesson, you will learn the rules to avoid common mistakes that many people make.

Subjects and Verbs Should Agree

What does it mean that the subject and verb should agree? In any sentence, we have a subject and a verb, and they must agree in number. If a subject is singular, then the verb should be singular, and if the subject is plural, then the verb should be plural.

She is running late. She is singular and goes with the singular verb is.

My friends are running late. My friends represent a plural, and we use the plural verb are.

Let's look at a couple more:

Singular - My dog barks at the squirrel.

Plural- My dogs bark at the squirrel.

Easy! Right? It can get a little more complicated. Select the right verb form in this sentence:

The crowd (is/are) roaring for an encore.

The crowd would indicate a bunch of people and would represent a plural subject. But in this case, we have a rule that says when we use a subject that represents a collective group, we can treat it like a singular subject and therefore, it takes a singular verb. The crowd IS roaring for an encore would be the correct form.

Here are some of the rules that will help you select the right verbs to go with different subjects.

1. Compound Subjects using the word AND

Sentences with two subjects use a plural verb unless we think of both subjects as one unit. For example, Sally and John are two subjects, and so we would say Sally and John are working late.

But if I have a sentence with bacon and eggs, we treat this like a singular subject, and we say bacon and eggs is my favorite breakfast.

Practice:

The Crown and Anchor restaurant is/are a popular place to eat. Crown and Anchor is one restaurant. (is)

2. Distance, Time, and Money Use a Singular Verb

We use a singular verb with distances, time, and money when we think of them as a unit. For example, 25 miles is too far to walk. 500 dollars is a lot of money. 12 PM is a good time for lunch.

Practice:

Five one-dollar bills is/are on the table for each child. In this case, the subject is talking about five distinct bills that each child will receive. (is)

3. One OF Something or Two or More OF Something

Pay attention to subjects that use the word of. For example, a herd of elephants is a subject that uses of. When we see subjects that use the word of, we have to determine whether the word before of is singular or plural. A group of tourists is on the bus. Group indicates a singular unit of something. In this case, it is a collective of tourists, and we use a singular verb here.

Practice:

A pack of dogs is/are loose in the neighborhood. A pack is singular. (is)

4. A Lot, Some, All are exceptions to the Of Rule

In sentences that use a lot, some, or all, the verb should agree with the word AFTER the word of. A lot of homework is difficult.

Practice:

All of the players is/are going home. Players are plural. (are)

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