What is a subject-verb agreement? That's what this article will cover. You'll learn everything you need to know to get it right in your own writing.
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A sentence's subject and its verb are inextricably linked. The verb tells us more about what the subject is doing, being, thinking, or feeling. It makes sense then that the verb and the subject should match and mirror each other.
The long and short of it is that singular subjects take singular verbs, and plural subjects take plural verbs. This is illustrated in the two following examples where the subject is underlined, and the verb is in bold:
The train stops here.
The trains stop here.
In the first sentence, the singular subject 'train' requires that we use the verb format 'stops,' while the plural subject 'trains' in the second sentence begets the plural verb format 'stop.'
So far, so good. Pretty simple, right? But the one thing you might be surprised to hear is that this whole subject-verb agreement business mostly just applies to sentences where the subject is third-person singular. That's because, for the other pronouns, the verb format is the same regardless of whether the subject is singular or plural.
I like cookies.
You like cookies.
He/she/it likes cookies.
We like cookies.
They like cookies.
This is always the case: in the present tense, all the pronouns are conjugated the same way except for the third-person singular. There is only one exception to this: the verb 'be.'
The third-person singular pronouns include 'he,' 'she,' and 'it.' To make this verb form, simply take the base verb and add -s, -es, or -ies (except for the verb 'have,' which becomes 'has').
Now you might think that identifying whether the subject is singular or plural is simple enough. And most of the time, it is. But sometimes, it can trip you up. These are some exceptional cases where that could happen.
The following nouns are always singular and should take singular verbs.
The following nouns can be either singular or plural, so it's up to you to decide the most appropriate form:
Now that you've identified whether the subject is singular or plural, you can decide which verb format to use: should it be singular or plural? Here are some valuable tips for choosing the correct verb format.
One of the most common subject-verb agreement errors occurs when people lose track of the actual subject of the sentence.
Here's an example:
The girl, despite everything her parents told her, knows that she must follow her heart.
Here, it could be easy to become misled and think that 'her parents' is the subject and that, with it being plural, the verb should be plural too. But the subject is, in fact, 'the girl,' which is singular, and 'despite everything her parents told her' is a prepositional phrase. It adds more information but doesn't change what the subject is.
Sometimes a sentence might have more than one verb. Make sure that all the verbs agree with the subject and not just one or some of them.
For my evening routine I brush my teeth, wash my face and read my book.
If another subject is introduced, then the verbs that relate to the new subject should agree with it. This compound sentence is a good example:
For my evening routine I brush my teeth, wash my face and read my book; and then my friend calls me.
Only the auxiliary 'do' must comply with subject-verb agreement rules when forming a negative or interrogative sentence. The main verb gets a free pass and just stays the same regardless.
I don't know the words to this song.
She doesn't know the words to this song.
Do you know the words?
Does she know the words?
That's a bit of a weird thing to say, isn't it? "Make sure the verb's a verb." But it's true: some verbs aren't actually verbs. This means that they look like verbs but are being used for different purposes. These are known as verbals. Some common verbals are gerunds, infinitives, and participles. Since these aren't actually functioning as verbs in the sentence, they don't need to follow subject-verb agreement.
My teacher makes learning fun.
She said she needs to think about it.
I don't want my mother to feel disappointed in me.
That concludes this article on subject-verb agreement. I hope you found it helpful and that you now feel well-equipped to get it right in your own writing. To be sure, let's summarize what we've learned:
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