What Is Subject Verb Agreement in English Grammar? Definition, Examples, and Exercises.

Subject – Verb Agreement

  1. Grandmother was praying and telling her beads.
  2. The sparrows were not chirping.

In 1 the verb is “was praying”. But in 2 the verb is “were … chirping”. Why is it so? In an English, sentence verb must agree with its subject in number and person.

Its form depends on whether the subject is singular or plural in number. It also depends on whether the subject is the first, second or third person.

Keeping the subject-verb agreement in view, we choose the correct verb form after the subject. Note the agreement between the subjects and verbs in the following sentences :

SubjectVerbParts of the predicate other than the verb
Iamin the school hall.
We / You / They / The students arein the school hall.
He / She / It / Gopal / Rani /The teacherisin the school hall.
The teacher and the studentsarein the school hall.
The cowEatsGrass
Cows, goats and sheepeatGrass

If we change the sentences into the past tense, the verbs will be was (in place of am and is), were (in place of are), and ate (in place of eats and eat).

  1. (a) Verbs used after an introductory there have to agree with the noun (the real subject) coming after them.

There is/was a book on the desk.
There are/were four books on the desk.

(b) When It is used in the normal subject position to make a statement about time, distance or weather, the verb is always singular, i.e. is or was.

It is/was ten past twelve.
It is/was two miles to the beach.
It is/was raining heavily.

2. When a plural number applies to distance, time, weights, or amounts of money, and represents a single figure or quantity, it is treated as singular and it takes a singular verb;

Examples :

Fifty kilometers is not a long distance in these days of rapid travel.
Sixty years is a long time.
Two kilos of tea costs six hundred rupees.
Five rupees is not a big sum.

3 (a) If two nouns joined by and are regarded as a single object or notion, the verb is singular; as,

Examples:

Bread and butter is my favorite breakfast.
Truth and honesty is the best policy.
Curry and rice was his favorite food.

(b) In other cases two singular or plural subjects joined by and make the total subject plural which takes a plural verb.

Examples:

Gopal and his sister have come.
Two boys and three girls have written their essays.

4 (a) A collective noun in the singular may take the verb in the singular if the speaker thinks of the thing as a singular whole.

If individual members of the collective noun are considered, the collective noun can take a plural verb. Mark the following sentences :

The jury (i.e. the members of the jury) were divided in their opinions. The jury (i.e., as one body) has selected its chairman.
The committee was unanimous on this issue. (single unit)
The committee were divided on this issue. (Individual members)

(b) Some nouns like police, people, poultry, cattle, etc. usually take plural verbs.

The police have not made any arrests.
The people of India are concerned about their spiritual welfare.
The poultry have been fed.
The cattle are grazing in the field.

5. The nouns clothing, food, furniture, stationery, cutlery, crockery, jewellery and scenery usually take singular verbs :

His clothing is very attractive.
Food is necessary for living.
The furniture needs to be repaired.
Stationery is sold in this shop.

6. If a clause separates the subject from the verb, it is necessary to remember the actual subject word and to make the verb agree with it.

All the books which have been placed on that table are mine.
The radio which you gave my children works perfectly.

7. (a) If a subject begins with either of, neither of, or none of followed by a plural noun or pronoun, the verb is usually singular

Examples:

Either of the boys has got a prize.
Neither of them has come.
None of the students has arrived yet.

[ Use of plural verbs in these cases is considered informal and such verbs are sometimes used in conversational English.]

(b) Each of, one of etc. usually take singular verbs :

Each of the students was given a prize.
One of the girls was able to answer the question correctly.

(c) If no or some is followed by a singular noun, it takes a singular verb. If it is followed by a plural noun, it takes a plural verb :

Examples;

No child has done his homework.
No children have done their homework.
Some water is left in the pot.
Some girls have gone on a picnic.

(d) When and connects two titles or designations of the same person, the verb is singular. If the persons referred to are different, the verb is plural.

Examples:

The Vice-President of India and Chairman of Rajya Sabha has given his consent to the bill.
The Vice-President of India and the Chancellor of the University were invited to the convocation.

[ To indicate that the persons talked about are two separate individuals, we use the definite article the before each person as in the second example above. ]

8. If the subject begins with a fraction, the verb agrees with the noun that follows the fraction.

Examples:

Two-thirds of the acid has evaporated.
Two-thirds of the apples are rotten.

9. (a) If the subject begins with a good deal of, a great deal of, a lot of’, plenty of, most of, some of etc. the verb agrees with the noun that follows such phrases :

Examples:

A lot of people were present at the meeting.
A lot of money was spent on buying clothes for the marriage ceremony.
Some of the students were intelligent.
Some of the music was excellent.

(b) Phrases beginning with ‘a congregation of’, ‘a crowd of’, ‘a flock of’, ‘a group of’, a herd of’, and ‘a regiment of’, usually take a singular verb in spite of the fact that the noun after ‘of’ is plural.

Examples:

A crowd of people was shouting slogans.
A herd of elephants was seen in the jungle.
A group of smugglers was arrested yesterday.

(c) A number of followed by a plural noun takes a plural verb. But The number of in a similar situation takes a singular verb as the real subject is

Examples:

A number of children are suffering from cold.
The number of sick children is increasing.

10. Statistics, Mathematics, Physics, Economics, News, Measles, Mumps, Advice, Information, Jewellery, Scenery etc. are uncountable nouns. They take singular verbs :

Examples:

Physics is my favourite subject.
Measles is an infectious disease.
The news was bad.
No information is available now.

11. If the subject of a sentence is a clause, the verb is singular :

Examples:

That she is alive is good news.
What he does these days does not concern me.

12 (a) If two words are linked in the subject with the help of connectives like with, as well as, in addition to, together with etc., the verb agrees with the first word.

Examples:

The teacher with all her students has come.
Rabi as well as his friends is responsible for the loss.
Population growth in addition to many other problems has badly affected India’s growth.
This new fact together with the other pieces of evidence proves the prisoner’s innocence.

(b) When the words in the subject are connected by “not only … but also”, or, “neither ….nor” or “either … or” and they differ in number and person, the verb agrees with the nearer subject.

Examples:

Not only the boy but also his friends are equally guilty.
The boy or his friends have to repair the broken window.
Neither the old man nor his sons are prepared to sell their old house.
Either you or he has created this problem.

13. Some nouns are made up of two similar parts in a pair like scissors, trousers, spectacles (glasses), etc. These words are treated as plural subjects and they require plural verbs, but a pair of scissors, a pair of shoes, a pair of trousers etc, take a singular verb.

Examples:

The scissors are old.
My trousers have been cleaned.
A pair of shoes was lying in the corner.

14. When an adjective is used as a noun representing a class, it takes a plural verb :

Examples;

The rich have a lot of responsibility towards the poor.
The blind need escorts to cross a road.

15. When the plural noun is a proper name for some single object or for some collective unit, it requires a singular verb, as,

Examples:

Gulliver’s Travels was written by Jonathan Swift.

The United States is a powerful country.

16. The verb in a relative clause is singular or plural depending on the number and person of the antecedent of the relative pronoun :

Examples:

It is you who have wronged me.
It is he who has torn my book.

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