Basic & Advanced Subject-Verb-Agreement »

Basic & Advanced Subject-Verb-Agreement Rules

English Grammar Basic & Advanced Subject-Verb-Agreement Rules to score in any competitive exam
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English Grammar: Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-Verb Agreement Definition

Subject-Verb Agreement means that subjects and verbs must always agree in number. Not only does a verb change its form to tell time, but it can also change its form to indicate how many subjects it has.

For example, take the verb “run.” In the present tense, the verb “run” changes its form to show that its subject is singular when its subject is anything but “I” or “you” or “we” or “they”.


Singular Subject

Plural Subject

First Person

I run

We run

Second Person

You run

You all run

Third Person

He runs. She runs. The boy runs.

They run. It runs.

Do you notice that in the third person singular a “s” is added to the verb form?

The fact is that all present tense verbs have an “s” added to them when the subject is in third person singular.

Basic Rules of Subject-Verb Agreement


The subject of the sentence, in simple words, is the person or thing about which the sentence speaks.

e.g.: Arvind is a programmer in the Race Institute.

(Where ‘Arvind’ is the subject.)


The verb in a sentence describes an action or state of the subject. It should agree with the subject in number or person.

e.g.: Devi eats chicken.

(where ‘eats’ is the verb.)

Verb is always in tune with the subject. So the true understanding of the ‘subject’ is imperative in deciphering the agreement. Let us look into the following rules:

Rule 1: If the subject is a noun (singular), the verb should be singular and should be in agreement with the subject.

e.g.: Shanmugam is a boy.

Here ‘Shanmugam’ is the subject and is a proper noun, ‘is’ indicates the singular verb.

Rule 2: At times, the subjects can be a group of words in a sentence.

e.g.: one of the questions was easy. Here the verb agrees with one and not questions.

Rule 3: If two or more singular subjects are connected by or, nor, either…..or, neither…nor then singular verb must be used.

Note: When the subject joined by or/ nor  are of different numbers, the verb agrees with the nearer.

e.g.: Neither Kani nor Shobi is present .

Here the singular verb ‘is’ agrees with the subject.

Rule 4: ‘None’, ‘no one’ and neither when conveyed as the subject, are treated as singular even when they indicate no person or thing.

e.g.: None was interested in the game.

Rule 5: A hidden subject may be already present in the sentence. In such case verb will agree with that hidden subject only and not with other nouns in the sentence.

e.g.: Fill the answer in the appropriate column.

Here the subject is not shown openly or explicitly.

The hidden subject is understood to be ‘students’ or ‘employees’.

Rule 6: The use of conjunction ‘and’ joining two nouns makes the subject group plural in most of the cases.

e.g.: English and Maths are two important branches in learning.

Whenever ‘and’ indicates an idiomatic or a unified subject, the subject group remains singular.

e.g.: Bread and Butter is the best combination.

Rule 7: When ‘or’ is used in a sentence, the nouns are identified individually. The verb is written as per proximity.

e.g.: The thief or the servant is the murderer.

The use of ‘or’ segregates the nouns. As ‘servant’ and ‘watchman’ are singular individually, the verb is written in singular format.

e.g.: The drinks or chocolates are to be tasted.

The verb ‘are’ is in agreement with the proximate plural noun ‘chocolates’.

Rule 8: Anybody’, ‘everybody’,everyone, somebody, someone, nobody, noone and ‘each’ are identified as singular in number.

e.g.: Each of the lessons is easy to learn.

In the above sentence the verb remains singular.

Rule 9: Infinitives are also used as subjects.

e.g.: To learn good habits is a matter of concern.

Here ‘to learn good habits’ is a singular subject and is followed by the singular verb ‘is’.

Rule 10: In a few English sentences which are presumptive in nature, the verb is written in a special way.

e.g.: If I were a scientist I would create supersonic missiles.

The subject in this sentence, ‘I’ is first person-singular, the verb ‘were’ written, is plural. This sort of disagreement is on account of the sentence being presumptive or imaginative in character.

Rule 11: When two or more pronouns are written in a sentence, the verb should be put according to the proximate subject.

e.g.: He or she is to be blamed.

Rule 12: Some of the nouns or quantities are converted to plural by an apostrophe. The verb in those sentences are projected as plural.

e.g.: How many p’s are there in English word ‘Alphabet’?

Rule 13: Certain word groups such as ‘together with’, ‘along with’, ‘besides’, ‘with’, ‘in addition to’ and ‘as well as’ when they appear along with the noun, (subject) stand only as explanatory in nature and these do not affect the number of the noun.

e.g.: My brother along with my sister-in-law has come.

Rule 14: When “neither” and “nor” are used as correlatives, the verb will agree with the nearer subject. This rule in English is known as the ‘proximity’ rule.

e.g.: Neither Ravi nor his friends are attentive.

Rule 15: When a pronoun is introduced in a sentence, its number should be identified correctly, in relation to its antecedent, in order to place the verb in order.

e.g.: He was one of my colleagues, who was important in shaping my life.

In this sentence the pronoun ‘who’ refers to ‘He’ and the verb is written in singular accordingly.

Advanced Rules of Subject-Verb Agreement

RULE 1: Use verbs that agree with a subject, not with a noun that is part of a modifying phrase or clause between the verb and the subject.

Example: The quality of these oranges was not good.

The discovery originated with an idea that has been around for Years.

RULE 2: Two or more singular nouns or pronouns joined by ‘and’ require a plural verb.

Example: Gold and silver are precious metals.

She and I were playing carrom.

RULE 3: When the plural noun is a proper name for single objects or collective unit, it must be followed by a singular verb.

Example: Darts is a popular game in England.

RULE 4: Some nouns which are singular in form, but plural in meaning take a plural verb.

(cattle, gentry, vermin, peasantry, artillery, clergy, alphabet, Offspring, information)

Example“I need all information to process the case” said the police Inspector.

RULE 5: Either, neither, each, each one, anyone, everyone, everybody, anybody, nobody, somebody, someone, many a, no one must not required to be followed by a singular verb.

ExamplesShe asked me whether either of the applicants was suitable.

Each of these substances is found in England.

Many a man was shot dead in a war.

RULE 6: Words joined to a singular subject by with, as well as, along with, including, in addition to, besides, accompanied by, together with etc., are parenthetical .

The verb should therefore be put in the singular.

Example: Silver as well as gold, has demand in the market.

The Mayor, with his assistant, is present in the room.

RULE 7: Two or more singular subjects connected by or /nor require a singular verb.

Example: Either the deer or the dog has been here.

Neither cat nor dog was to be found there.

RULE 8: When the subject joined by or/ nor are of different numbers, the verb agrees with the nearer.

Example: Either the father or his sons have to attend the marriage.

RULE 9: Two nouns qualified by each or every, even though connected by and, require a singular verb.

Example: Every girl and every boy was given a packet of chocolate.

RULE 10: Some nouns which are plural in form, but singular in meaning, take a singular verb.

(Mathematics, classics, ethics, athletics, innings, gallows, economics, poetry, news, measles, news, mumps, electronics, tactics, physics)

Example: Mathematics is an interesting subject.

RULE 11: Pains and means take either the singular or the plural verb, but the construction must be consistent.

Example: All possible means have been tried by us.

The pain was intolerable.

RULE 12: None, though properly singular, commonly takes a plural verb.

Example: None of the boys are studying in the class.

RULE 13: A Collective noun takes a singular verb when the collection is thought of as one whole; plural verb when the individuals of which it is composed are thought of;

(audience, committee, company, council, army, police, society, board, cabinet, department, group, family, public, government, organisation, team, club, crowd, minority, jury, class )

Example: The group works for the implementation of the scheme.

RULE 14: When a plural noun denotes period of time, amounts of money, or quantities is considered as a single unit, singular verbs are used. considered as a whole, the verb is generally singular.

( Foot, metre, score, dozen, million, rupees, month )

Example: Twenty kilometres is a long walk.

Five months is too long a time to wait.

RULE 15: If two different singular nouns express one idea, the verb should be in the singular form.

(Bread and milk, Rice and curry, Bread and butter)

Example: Bread and butter is good for breakfast.

RULE 16: When two singular subjects are practically synonymous the verb should be in the singular form.

(Law and order, power and influence, power and position, peace and prosperity)

Example: The law and order situation in Tamil Nadu was fully under control.

RULE 17: When (Not only-but also) is used to combine two subjects, the verb agrees with the subject close to it.

Example: Not only Raj, but also his brothers were arrested.

Not only he but also his sister was eating.

RULE 18: Majority can be singular or plural. If it is alone it is usually singular, if it is followed by a plural noun, it is usually plural.

Example: A majority is always right.

A majority of students are right.

RULE 19: The number/A number used as singular as well as plural

Example: A number of students are found there.

The number of people living in streets has reduced.

RULE 20: when a lot of, a great deal of, plenty of, most of and some of refer to number, a plural verb is used.

Example: A lot of people were present at the meeting.

But, if these expressions refer to an amount, the verb is in the singular number. A lot of work has to be completed before we go. 

RULE 23: When sentences start with “there” or “here, ” the subject will always be placed after the verb, so care needs to be taken to identify it correctly.

Example: There are four members in the team.

There is a problem in the worksheet.

RULE 24: A linking verb usually agrees with its subject, not with its complement.

Example: The reason of her failure was excessive absences.

RULE 25: Plural verbs are required for many nouns that have no singular form, such as proceeds, goods, ashes, remains, credentials, premises, etc.,

Example: The goods are being despatched by goods train.

RULE 26: After such expressions as one-half of, two-thirds of, a part of, a majority of

Example: Two- thirds of the mailing list has been sent.

RULE 27: In sentences containing the words one of, the verb is chosen as follows:

Example: One of the pencils is missing from my bag.

RULE 28: All, any, more, most, some may be singular or plural depending on the meaning, and take verbs accordingly.

Example: All the work has been finished.

RULE 29: The title of books or magazines are considered singular and take singular verbs.

Example: The Hindu still has wide circulation.

RULE 30: When gerunds are used as the subject of a sentence, they take the singular verb form of the verb; but, when they are linked by and, they take the plural form.

Example: Singing and playing flute are my hobbies.

Tricky Cases of Subject-Verb Agreement

CASE #1: Making Subject and Verb Agree When Words Come Between Them.

Let’s compare these two sentences:

This box belongs in the attic.

This box of ornaments belongs in the attic.

In both sentences, the verb belongs agrees with its subject, box. Don’t let

the prepositional phrase in the second sentence fool you into thinking that ornaments is the subject.

Prepositional phrases (as well as adjective clauses, appositives, and participle phrases) often come between a subject and a verb. So, to make sure that a verb agrees with its subject and not with a word in the phrase or clause; mentally cross out the interrupting group of words:

a) One (of my wife’s friends) is a pilot.

b) The people (who survived the explosion) are in a shelter.

c) A man (chasing dragons) is on the terrace.

Remember, then, that the subject is not always the noun closest to the verb. It is the noun (or pronoun) that names what the sentence is about, and it may be separated by several words from the verb.

CASE #2: Reaching Agreement When the Subject Is an Indefinite Pronoun.

Remember to add an -s to the end of the verb in the present tense if the subject is one of the indefinite pronouns listed below:

one (anyone, everyone, no one, someone)

anybody (everybody, somebody, nobody)

anything (everything, something, nothing)

each, either, neither

Generally, treat these words as third-person singular pronouns (he, she, it). In the following sentences, each subject is an indefinite pronoun and each verb ends in -s:

a) Nobody claims to be perfect.

b) Everybody plays the fool sometimes.

c) Each of the divers has an oxygen tank.

In that last sentence, note that has agrees with the subject each, not with divers (the object of the preposition).

CASE #3: Making Have, Do, and Be Agree with Their Subjects.

Although all verbs follow the same principle of agreement, certain verbs seem to be a little more troublesome than others. In particular, many agreement errors result from the misuse of the common verbs have, do, and be. We need to remember that the verb have appears as has if the subject is a singular noun or a third-person singular pronoun (he, she, it):

Kanchana has ghosts in her bedroom.

If the subject is a plural noun or the pronoun I, you, we, or they, use have:

The Ghost busters have a new client.

Similarly, the verb ”do” appears as ”does” if the subject is a singular noun or, once again, a third-person singular pronoun (he, she, it):

Dhivya does the housework.

If the subject is a plural noun or the pronoun I, you, we, or they, use do:

Rajini and Kamal do the chores together.

The verb be has three forms in the present tense: is, am, are. Use is if the subject is a singular noun or a third-person singular pronoun (he, she, it):

Dr. Mathrabudam is unhappy.

Use am if the subject is the first-person singular pronoun (I):

I am not the person you think I am.

Finally, if the subject is a plural noun or the pronoun you, we, or they, use are:

The fans are in the stands, and we are ready to play.

Now, let’s take one more look at these three verbs–but from a different

angle. Sometimes a subject may follow (rather than precede) a form of the verb have, do, and be. As shown in the sentences below, this reversal of the usual order occurs in questions that require a helping verb:

a) Where has Rani parked the car?

b) What do you do in your free time?

c) Are we having a test today?

In all these sentences, the present forms of have, do, and be serve as helping verbs” and appear in front of their subjects.

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