Using the Correct Verb with Compound Subjects

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Subject-verb agreement is essential in written and spoken communication. But what do you do with if there's more than one subject? Read this lesson to learn the rules for compound subjects.

Subjects and Verbs

Our system of communication is based on two parts of sentence structure: the subject and the predicate. Remember the subject is the person or noun doing the action in the sentence. The predicate includes the verb, or action word, and the rest of the modifiers in the sentence.

When discussing compound subjects, this means the subject of the sentence is made up of two or more nouns that share the same verb. Look at this sentence:

Bob and Bill run every morning.

Bob and Bill are both doing the action, so this sentence has a compound subject. Compound subjects are joined by a conjunction, which is a connecting word. 'And,' 'or' and 'nor' are the most common conjunctions used to join subjects.

Compound subjects are useful in order to reduce unnecessary words and combine sentences. Imagine a language where we had to use two separate sentences. Bob runs every morning. Bill runs every morning. It would get tiresome to separate each subject into its own sentence all the time. Compound sentences allow two sentences to be reduced to one.

Subject-Verb Agreement

In all sentences, subjects must agree with their verbs. Look at this example:

Bob runs every morning.

The subject is singular, 'Bob,' so the verb must take on the form to match. In this case 'runs' matches a singular subject. If the subject is plural, the verb must change form.

For instance, in this sentence:

The baseball players run every morning.

'Players' is the new subject, which is plural, so the verb changes from 'runs' to 'run.'

Agreement in Compound Subjects

For compound subjects, agreement must also occur. If the two subjects are joined by 'and,' then it is considered a plural subject and needs the plural form of the verb. Look at this sentence:

Bob and Bill run every morning.

The verb takes on the plural form, 'run,' and not the singular form, 'runs.'

Or and Nor

On the other hand, for compound subjects joined by the conjunctions 'or' or 'nor,' the verb must only agree with the closest subject. Look at this sentence: Either Bob or Bill runs every morning. The verb must now agree with only the singular subject Bill, which is the closest to the verb. Since Bill is singular, run changes to runs.

Here are several other examples of compound subjects joined with 'or' or 'nor'. Note how the verb matches only the closest subject.

Neither the dog nor the cat enjoys baths.

Matt or Jamie is picking up the groceries.

Either the chicken or the burgers are burning on the grill.

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