Making Subjects and Verbs Agree
1. Do you have compound subjects connected with and?
Use a plural verb.
• Manny and Lewis play cards until 2 a.m. each Saturday night. (Manny and Lewis = they)
• She and I make cookies every weekend. (She and I = we)
2. Do you have two or more singular nouns or pronouns connected by or or nor?
Use a singular verb.
• Either a police officer or a firefighter gets cats out of trees. I forget which one does.
3. A compound subject containing both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun joined by or or nor needs a verb that agrees with the noun (pronoun) that is nearest to the verb.
• Neither the moon nor the stars shine as brightly as the sun. (The verb shine agrees with the plural stars.)
• Neither the stars nor the moon shines as brightly as the sun. (The verb shines is closest to the singular noun moon.)
4. Doesn’t (does not) is used only with a singular subject. Don’t (do not) is used only with a plural subject.
• Jack doesn’t like to work the night shift. (Jack = singular he)
• Those men don’t like silver jewelry; they prefer gold (those men = plural they).
5. When phrases come between a subject and a verb, keep this in your mind: The verb must agree with the subject, not with a noun or pronoun in the phrase.
• The song played by Enoch and Seth was lovely. (song. . . . was–singular)
• Our leader, as well as his advisors, tells us to be prepared for hard times. (leader. . .tells—singular)
• The authors who wrote that book are famous now. (authors. . .are—plural)
• The movie, even with all those big stars, is terrible. (movie. . .is—singular)
• The clowns, including the silent one, make us laugh. (clowns. . .make—plural)
6. The words each, each one, either, neither, everyone, everybody, anybody, anyone, nobody, somebody, someone, and no one are singular and require a singular verb. Pay attention to the spelling, too. Each of those words (except for no one) is written as one word, not two. For example, the word “everyone” is spelled as one word, not as “every one”.
• Someone is snoring in class. (singular)
• Everyone knows the truth about the matter. (singular)
7. The relative pronouns (who, whom, which, and that) are either singular or plural, depending on the words to which they refer.
• She is a brilliant student who studies many hours each night. (She. . .is, studies—singular)
• They are brilliant students who study many hours each night. (They. . .are, study—plural)
8. Some subjects may look plural, but are considered singular (civics, mathematics, news, measles, dollars). Some may look singular, but are considered plural (media, data).
• *The news is broadcast several times a day. (news, is—singular)
• Civics was my favorite subject in high school. (civics, was—singular)
• The media have often created false celebrities. (media, have created—plural. The words “the media” refers to worldwide communications via newspapers/magazines, internet, television, radio, etc.)
• Scientific data confuse the layman. (data, confuse—plural. The singular form of data is datum, meaning one piece of information, but it’s not used in conversational English. It may be used in scientific and academic writing.)
Note: *The word “news” is a problem for most people learning English. Never use the article “a” before “news”. Use “the”, or no article at all. Example: “I need news about weather conditions for flying.” ‘I need news about…’ means any general information at all, not specific news. If you say “I need the news about weather conditions that was just broadcast on TV five minutes ago.” , that means you need current specific information.
Here are more examples:
• I just watched the six o’clock news.
• Have you heard any news about the election? No, I don’t have any news about that, because not all the votes have been counted yet.
• I think Harry has some news about the election, because he works for a TV news program.
• Harry said, “No, I only have a little bit of news, because people are still voting. I’ll have more news in an hour from now.”
• 1) Marla has wonderful news! She passed the TOEFL with a very high mark. 2) That’s such good news! I’m sure she’s very happy.
• His boss gave him very bad news today. The company is closing, and all the employees will have to look for new jobs.
9. Nouns such as scissors, glasses, jeans (as in blue jeans), and shears require plural verbs. (Each item just mentioned has two parts.)
• My glasses are dirty. (glasses. . .(eyeglasses) are—plural)
• His jeans have a hole in both knees. (jeans. . .(pants) have—plural)
10. If a sentence begins with there is or there are, the subject follows the verb. The word there is never a subject, so the verb has to agree with what comes after it.
• There is still a doubt in my mind about him. (doubt is the singular subject. Use a singular verb.)
• There are more things in the car that have to be brought into the house. (things is plural. Use a plural verb.)
11. Collective nouns (such as congregation, group, herd, tribe, class, parliament, and jury) are considered singular and take a singular verb.
• The tribe (it) leaves the hunting ground every autumn.
• The Senate (it) votes to pass a new tax law.
• The group of travel agents (it) travels together to Spain every January. *Those agents (plural) are traveling together to France, too.
*The plural verb is used if the individuals in the group are specifically referred to.
• The jury is still discussing the details of the case. (collective = it. Use a singular verb)
• The jurors are arguing about the facts of the case. (individual members = they. Use a plural verb)
12. Expressions such as with, together with, including, accompanied by, in addition to, or as well do not change the number of the subject. If the subject is singular, the verb must be singular. If the subject is plural, the verb must also be plural.
• Elvis, accompanied by all the musicians in the band, has left the building. (Elvis . . .has left—singular)
• The cars, including Sophie’s, were given parking tickets. (cars. . .were given—plural)