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Five Rules For Subject Verb Agreement

Apr 18, 2008
When speaking or writing English, it is important to make the subjects and the verb agree. Let's go over some rules using basic sentences. These rules will help you choose the correct verb based on the subject.

Rule #1: Subject Usually Left Of Verb

Before you know which verb to use, first you need to know what the subject is! As a general rule, the subject is usually immediately to the left of the verb.

Example: That tree grows fast.

Here, the subject is immediately to the left of the verb. The verb is "grows", making the subject "tree".

Example: Sometimes dogs bark for fun.

The verb here is "bark". As you can see, the subject, "dogs", is immediately to the left.

There are exceptions to this rule. One big signal of a sentence where the verb comes before the subject is when the sentence starts with "There".

Example: There are apples everywhere.

"Apples" is the subject. The verb, "are", comes before the subject.

Rule #2: "Or" Use Singular, "And" Use Plural

This is for sentences with two or more subjects. If the subjects are connected with the word "or", you want to use a singular verb. If they are connected with the word "and", use a plural verb.

Example: Tom or Sally is picking it up at noon.

Our two subjects, "Tom" and "Sally", are connected by the word "or". Because of this, our verb needs to be singular (is).

Example: Tom and Sally are picking it up at noon.

By connecting our two subjects with "and", we now use a plural verb (are).

In these examples, the subjects were singular. What happens if one of the subjects is plural?

Rule #3: When In Doubt, Verb Agrees With Nearest Subject

When a singular and a plural noun are connected by the word "or", the verb should agree with the nearest subject. Remember, "are" is used with plural while "is" is used with singular.

Example: The players or the coach is in the gym.

Example: The coach or the players are in the gym.

Let's look at two examples that use verbs different than "is" and "are".

Example: Tom or the cats run for dear life.

Example: The cats or Tom runs for dear life.

Rule #4: Don't Become Confused Of The Subject

This can be a tricky thing to remember. Some sentences have a phrase after the subject but before the verb. These phrases can make identifying the subject an adventure. In the below examples, the subject and the verb are in italics. Notice how the words in between could change the verb usage if they were falsely identified as the subject.

Example: The quarterback, not to mention the rest of his teammates, is worried about tonight's game.

Example: My neighbor with all the birds is running for Sheriff.

Example: The dogs who watch the cat are getting tired.

Example: That girl who likes the flowers jogs twice per day.

Example: One of the trees is dying.

Rule #5: Everybody Is Singular

Although they sound plural, subjects such as everybody, anybody, no one, somebody, nobody, each, either, and neither are singular and use singular verbs.

Example: Everybody who came tonight is to be commended.

Example: Anybody is welcome to attend.

Example: Nobody I love came to my party.

Example: Either will do.

Example: Each of these cars is a fine choice.

As you work towards mastering English, there will be times of frustration. But don't give up! Just remember, practice makes perfect.
About the Author
Warren Wong writes for 1-language.com, a website dedicated to helping people Learn English.
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