Subject – Verb Agreement

This page was first published on the 11th of January, 2017 and last updated on the 30th of April, 2017 by Patrick Carpen.

agree photoEvery sentence contains a subject and a verb. The subject is what we are talking about, and the verb helps to complete what we are saying about the subject.

There are two main types of verbs: action verbs and linking verbs.

In the sentence below, the action verb is underlined.

The sun rises in the morning.

In the sentence below, the linking verb is underlined.

The sun is a huge ball of fire.

 

In both types of sentences–action and linking verb sentences–the subject and verb must agree in NUMBER.

That is, a singular subject must take a singular verb, and a plural subject must take a plural verb.

To be able to match singular subjects with singular verbs, and plural subjects with plural verbs, we must understand how subjects and verbs form their plural.

Remember that a subject is a “noun”.

Nouns and verbs form their plurals in two exactly opposite ways.

Generally speaking, nouns form their plurals by adding an s. Verbs form their plural by dropping an s. Take a look at the examples of singular and plural nouns below:

Singular Noun Plural Noun
Dog

House

Sea

Road

Highway

Teacher

Student

 

Dogs

Houses

Seas

Roads

Highways

Teachers

Students

 

 

Now take a look at the examples of singular and plural verbs below:

Singular Verb Plural Verb
Gets

Runs

Walks

Climbs

Swims

Get

Run

Walk

Climb

Swim

 

Plural nouns end in an s but plural verbs do not.

 

Now let’s create a sentence using a singular verb.

The river flows into the sea.

In the above sentence, the singular subject river requires the singular verb flows.

Now let’s change the subject into plural.

The rivers flow into the sea.

The plural subject rivers requires the plural verb flow.

 

The same rule is generally true for linking verbs. Singular linking verbs end in s while plural linking verbs do not.

Look at the examples below:

Singular Verb Plural Verb
Is

Was

 

Are

were

 

The student is in the class. (singular subject, singular verb)

The students are in the class. (plural subject, plural verb)

The student was in the class. (singular subject, singular verb)

The students were in the class. (plural subject, plural verb)

 

 

Sometimes, it is difficult to identify the subject or a sentence. For example:

 

One of the boys (is, are) absent.

 

Is the subject above singular or plural? The subject is singular because we are talking about ONE of the boys. NOT “the boys”.

 

Therefore, the singular subject “one boy” must take the singular verb “is”:

One of the boys is absent.

Sometimes the subject does not appear at the beginning of the sentence, for example:

Over the hill were two lions. (plural subject and verb)

We also have to be careful with collective nouns. Collective nouns, such as flock, group, school, team much be treated as singular.

For example:

Over the hill was a flock of sheep.

Over the hill were two sheep.

 

 

Choose the correct verb from the options to complete the following sentences:

 

Guyana (is, are) a land of many waters.

To the south of Guyana (is, are) Brazil.

Brazilians (come, comes) across the border every day to shop in the town of Lethem.

The town of Lethem (is, are) a major access point between the two countries.

Many stores in Lethem (sell, sells) merchandise at a cheap price.

Brazilians (look, looks) for better bargains in Guyana.

At the end of the day, they (return, returns) to their homes in Brazil.

They (leave, leaves) with merchandise and great memories.

 

Note that only the present tense forms of verb have singular and plural form.

Example:

The boy runs every morning.

The boys run every morning.

BUT

The boy ran yesterday.

The boys ran yesterday.

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