Subject-Verb Agreement

Subjects and verbs have to agree in number and person. Subjects are either singular (I run, she knows, you scream) or plural (we know, they jump):

My sister talks with a Boston accent.
My sisters talk with a Boston accent. 

Some people can look at these subjects and verbs and immediately see which verb endings the nouns take. A closer look at the pattern of agreement is more helpful to people who have trouble with subject-verb agreement.

Consider this:  most writers know that in order to make a noun a plural, one adds and -s ending.  Sister becomes sisters, dog becomes dogs, and school becomes schools.  With verbs however, the opposite of adding an -s ending occurs; when making a verb plural, one should delete the -s ending.  So one sister talks, while many sisters talk.  One dog barks, and many dogs bark.  One school teaches, and many schools teach.

Agreement becomes a bit more complicated, however, with buried subjects, compound subjects, or either/or subjects.

Buried Subject

You will often find words separating the subject from the verb. To make sure you are using the correct verb, strip away the modifiers to locate the noun:

The students living in Baker Hall need to meet with their Resident Assistants at the beginning of the semester. 
(take out “living in Baker Hall” here, and you can see that “students” takes the verb “need”)

The slaughter [subject] of elephants for their tusks has [verb]caused hunters to be monitored more closely. 

Almost all [subject] of the students in the History Club enjoy [verb] history.

Compound Subjects 
(subjects joined by “and” take a plural verb)

Dr. Black and Dr. Beck Young are going to teach an Honor’s class in the fall.

Heidi and Marc often run together on Thursdays.

The managers and the assistant managers are going to meet next week.

Basil and oregano grow best in rich soil.

Either/Or Subjects
(when subject words are joined by “or” (or “either…or”; “neither…nor”, or “not only…but,” the verb agrees with the closest subject word.

A driver’s license or passport is required to register. (“passport” is the closest noun here, so “is” agrees with “passport”)

Neither Dr. Ypma nor the students are rehearsing in the chapel today

Either Susan or her employees need to decide to contact the client.

Indefinite Pronouns (indefinite words such as each, every, and any take a singular verb if they are the subject word of if they precede the subject:

Each raises an important question.

Words such as everyone, everything, anybody often have plural meaning, but the still take a singular verb.

Everybody interviewed for the RA position submits a resume.

When indefinite words such as none, some, most, and all are the subject, the number of the verb depends on the meaning of the subject:

Some of the book is written in Spanish. (the subject is only part of the book and therefore takes a singular subject)

Some of the students are going to start a new club on campus. (here the “some” refers to a group of students, and is therefore plural)

Collective Nouns(nouns that are groups, such as team, family, committee, group). If a collective noun refers to a group acting as a unit, the verb is singular:

The team hopes to make it to the playoffs this year.

**Hint: If you have trouble with subject-verb agreement, read your sentences out loud. You often will hear an error you might not have noticed while reading.

Subject-verb Agreement Exercise

Correct any errors in subject-verb agreement in the following sentences.  Mark "C" if the sentence is correct:

1. These students is very friendly.

2. Peter Max and Susan Stamberg are speaking on campus next semester.

3. A friend of my parents come to vacation with us every summer.

4. The sound of the waves makes me feel drowsy.

5. Jennifer or her sorority sisters is responsible for giving you pledging information.

6. Hot fudge or nuts is perfect in sundaes.

7. My family hopes you will be able to visit us next summer.

8. Both Chris and Mark helps to register students.