English Subject-Verb Agreement Ronald Kaunda

12 Rules of Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb agreement is one of the fundamental grammatical rules like condition that dictates that the verb or verbs in a sentence must correspond with the subject in terms of number, person, and gender. This means that the form of the verb changes based on whether the subject is singular or plural, who is performing the action (first, second, or third person), and sometimes the gender of the subject.

In the English language, however, subject-verb agreement is primarily concerned with matching the verb to the number (singular or plural) and occasionally the person (first person, second person, or third person) of the subject. Unlike some other languages, English verbs do not change form to reflect the gender of the subject.

For example, in the sentence “She runs every morning,” the verb “runs” is singular to agree with the singular subject “she.” Similarly, in “They run every morning,” the verb “run” is plural to agree with the plural subject “they.” This adherence to matching the verb correctly with its subject ensures clarity and grammatical correctness in written and spoken communication.

Rules of Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb agreement is a fundamental aspect of English grammar that ensures the verb in a sentence corresponds correctly with the subject in terms of number and person. This agreement is essential for clarity and coherence in communication. By adhering to these rules, one can avoid common grammatical errors and enhance the quality of both written and spoken language.

This article outlines the essential rules of subject-verb agreement, providing explanations and examples to illustrate how they function in various contexts. Understanding and applying these rules will significantly improve your grammatical accuracy and communication skills.

1. If the subject is singular, the verb must be singular too

This rule means that when the subject of a sentence is a single entity (one person, one thing, etc.), the verb should also be in its singular form. Singular verbs typically end in -s or -es.

Examples:

  • The dog barks loudly at night.
  • She enjoys reading books.
  • A car waits at the traffic light.

Exception: When using the singular “they,” use plural verb forms.

The singular “they” is used to refer to someone whose gender is unknown or to be inclusive of all genders. Despite “they” being singular in this context, it takes a plural verb form.

Examples:

  • Someone left their bag; they are coming back for it.
  • Every student must submit their assignment before they leave.
  • If anyone calls, tell them they need to wait.

2. If the subject is plural, the verb must also be plural.

When the subject of a sentence refers to more than one person or thing, the verb must be in its plural form. Plural verbs do not end in -s or -es.

Examples:

  • The dogs bark loudly at night.
  • They enjoy reading books.
  • Cars wait at the traffic light.

Sometimes, however, it seems a bit more complicated than this.

There can be complexities, such as collective nouns or indefinite pronouns, that might seem plural but actually require singular verbs.

3. When the subject of the sentence is composed of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by “and,” use a plural verb.

When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are joined by “and,” they form a compound subject which requires a plural verb.

Examples:

  • The cat and the dog are playing together.
  • My brother and sister live in New York.
  • The manager and the assistant are reviewing the report.

4. When there is one subject and more than one verb, the verbs throughout the sentence must agree with the subject.

In sentences where a single subject performs multiple actions, each verb should agree with the subject in number and person.

Examples:

  • She writes articles and edits them.
  • The student reads and takes notes.
  • The cat sleeps during the day and hunts at night.

5. When a phrase comes between the subject and the verb, remember that the verb still agrees with the subject, not the noun or pronoun in the phrase following the subject of the sentence.

Intermediate phrases or clauses do not affect the number of the subject. The verb must still agree with the main subject.

Examples:

  • The bouquet of flowers is beautiful.
  • The teacher, along with her students, is attending the conference.
  • The book, including all its chapters, was fascinating.

6. When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by “or” or “nor,” use a singular verb.

When singular subjects are joined by “or” or “nor,” they do not form a compound subject and therefore take a singular verb.

Examples:

  • Neither the cat nor the dog is allowed on the furniture.
  • Either the teacher or the student has the answer.
  • Neither John nor Mary wants to go to the party.

7. When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun joined by “or” or “nor,” the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is closest to the verb. This is also called the rule of proximity.

This rule requires that the verb agrees with the nearer subject, whether singular or plural.

Examples:

  • Neither the manager nor the employees are aware of the changes.
  • Either the children or the teacher has to start the meeting.
  • Neither the book nor the papers were found.

8. The words and phrases “each,” “each one,” “either,” “neither,” “everyone,” “everybody,” “anyone,” “anybody,” “nobody,” “somebody,” “someone,” and “no one” are singular and require a singular verb.

These indefinite pronouns are always singular and take singular verbs, regardless of the nouns they might imply.

Examples:

  • Everyone is invited to the party.
  • Nobody knows the answer.
  • Each of the students has a book.

9. Noncount nouns take a singular verb.

Noncount nouns, which refer to things that cannot be counted individually (like “milk,” “information,” “advice”), always take a singular verb.

Examples:

  • The information is reliable.
  • Milk is good for your health.
  • Advice is often ignored.

10. Some countable nouns in English such as “earnings,” “goods,” “odds,” “surroundings,” “proceeds,” “contents,” and “valuables” only have a plural form and take a plural verb.

These nouns are plural in form and always take a plural verb even though they might seem singular in meaning.

Examples:

  • The earnings are deposited into the account.
  • The goods were delivered on time.
  • The surroundings are peaceful.

11. In sentences beginning with “there is” or “there are,” the subject follows the verb. Since “there” is not the subject, the verb agrees with what follows the verb.

In constructions that start with “there is” or “there are,” the verb must agree with the actual subject of the sentence, which comes after the verb.

Examples:

  • There is a cat on the roof.
  • There are many challenges ahead.
  • There is a book and a pen on the table.

12. Collective nouns are words that imply more than one person but are considered singular and take a singular verb. Some examples are “group,” “team,” “committee,” “family,” and “class.”

Collective nouns represent a group acting as a single entity, thus they take singular verbs.

Examples:

  • The team wins every match.
  • The committee decides on the rules.
  • The family lives in a large house.

Conclusion

Understanding and applying the rules of subject-verb agreement is essential for mastering the English language and ensuring clear and effective communication. These rules help maintain grammatical consistency and accuracy, which are crucial for both written and spoken English. From the basic principle that singular subjects take singular verbs and plural subjects take plural verbs, to more complex scenarios involving compound subjects, intermediate phrases, and collective nouns, adhering to these guidelines enhances the readability and professionalism of one’s language.

By paying attention to subject-verb agreement, writers and speakers can avoid common errors and ambiguities. Whether dealing with simple sentences or more intricate structures involving multiple verbs or subjects, following these rules contributes to the overall coherence and clarity of communication. As with any aspect of language learning, practice and attentiveness are key to mastering subject-verb agreement, allowing for more precise and polished expression.

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