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Grad. Studies Home

Making Sure Your Subjects and Verbs Agree

What is subject/verb agreement?

Subjects must agree with their verbs in number.  That means, if a subject (like "client") is singular, the action word explaining what the client is doing (the verb) must be singular. If the subject is plural, the verb must be plural. 

(Just to make things complicated,  adding an -s ending makes a subject plural, but adding an -s ending makes a verb singular.)

  • Singular subject and singular verb: The client speaks.

  • Plural subject and plural verb: The clients speak.
  What causes subject/verb disagreement?

The most common error is forgetting to add the -s to the end of present tense singular verbs.  This happens in four main situations:

  1. We don't hear or pronounce that -s ending on a singular verb clearly, and since we don't hear it, we forget to write it.  This often happens with verbs that already have an S within the verb itself, like to ask, to consist, to insist.  Remember:  they ask (plural), but she asks (singular); s (singular).

  2. We mistakenly match the verb with an incorrect subject word. This often happens when the subject and verb are separated from each other. 

The only person who correctly completed all the questions is Ali.

The words "who correctly completed all  the questions" come in between the singular subject ("person") and its singular verb ("is"). Don't be tempted to think that the word "questions" is the subject just because it comes right before the verb "is."

  1. We let logic get in the way.  The word "everyone," for instance, seems as though it should be plural because it means a group of people, but grammatically it is singular and thus takes a singular verb: "Everyone is finished," not "Everyone are finished."

  2. We let word order get in the way.  For example, questions and sentences that begin with THERE require the writer to write the verb before writing the subject: "There is a mistake" but "There are many mistakes."

  How can I check for subject/verb disagreement? 

Let's say you want to check the following sentence for subject/verb agreement: 

    The phones in my office is ringing constantly today.

    1. Identify the verb (= the action word, often paired with a form of is / are / has / have) in the sentence.   Answer (action verb):  "is ringing"

    2. Ask yourself "who or what is ringing?"  Answer (subject):  "phones"

    3. Put the two together ("phones is ringing)." Do they sound right?  Answer:  No.  "Phones" is a plural subject, so it needs a plural verb:  Correct sentence:  The phones in my office are ringing constantly today.
How do I fix subject/verb disagreement?

Once you have identified the correct subject and verb, make sure that both are singular or both are plural.  Remember, too, the three common irregular verbs (below) and be careful to use the correct form for your sentence.

SINGULAR PLURAL

is / was

has

do

are / were

have

does

 

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