Basic English Grammar: Subject-Verb-Agreement

Basic English Grammar: 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.

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