Teaching Subject and Verb Agreement

match photoTeaching subject and verb agreement to any class can be a challenge, but it is especially difficult to teach to very young learners.

Most of the time, we train our ear to determine whether we’re saying the right thing. And when asked, “why is that so?” we simply say: because it sounds right.

For example, if I ask, which of the following is correct:

a) The horse run.


b) The horse runs.

99% of students might correctly “guess” that the answer is b: the horse runs.

But when asked “why?” 90% might say, “because it sounds right.”

Only 10% might be able to say, “because the singular subject ‘horse’ requires the singular form of the verb ‘to run’ .”

To be able to teach subject and verb agreement effectively, the instructor (or teacher) must first ensure that the students understand that subjects (or nouns) form their plurals in the exact opposite way that verbs form their plurals. That is, the subject forms its plural by taking up an “s” whereas the verb forms it plural by dropping an “s.”

Most teachers go right ahead skimming through the topic without first giving the foundation to the student. And, as the old saying goes, “without a foundation, the building will collapse.”

Nevertheless, we seem to take great pride in running our students through the mill, and we often boast of the number of graduates our universities have “churned out” every year.

Without making this already complex topic any more complex, it is important to give the learning student an introduction to singular subjects and singular verbs.

But before you even do that, you must make sure that the student understands what is a subject and what is a predicate. It is crucial since the words subject and verb are already two out-of-place words in this context. They do not ring well with each other since they do not come from the same word categories or word groups.

How about “subject and predicate agreement?” Yes. That I would understand. Or how about “noun and verb” agreement. But to say “subject and verb agreement” is like taking an alien from outer space and putting it on earth.

And to make it even worse, the expression “subject and verb agreement” is completely out-of-wack. The subject and verb must “agree?” Agree with what? Were they arguing in the first place?

So, the subject and the verb must agree in number. It would be more appropriate to say, “the subject and the verb must match each other in number.” And the topic would more aptly be called “subject and verb appropriateness.” That is, the subject and the verb must be appropriate for each other, in number of course. In other words, they must match.

Yesterday afternoon, while teaching subject and verb agreement, I asked my young student Jayden, “is the sky blue?”

“Yes,” he answered.

Then I turned to Derreck, “is the sky blue?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“So class, both Derreck and Jayden agree that the sky is blue. Correct?”


“So in the same way, the subject of your sentence must agree with verb of your sentence. And if they don’t agree what will happen? They will fight right?”


“And when they start fighting, what will happen? They will tear the pages of your book right?”

*A little laughter, a little eye rolling and a little confusion erupts in the classroom.*

“So,” I continue. “The subject of your sentence and the verb of your sentence must agree that the sky is blue right?”


“Then what must they agree on?”

*Confused looks.*

OK, the subject and the verb must agree “in number.” That is, a singular subject must take a singular verb, and a plural must take a (what kind of) verb?

Plural verb.

And that’s the whole concept of subject and verb agreement, which would have better expressed as “noun-verb correctness” or “noun and verb appropriateness.” Don’t you think?

OK. Why don’t we go ahead and explain to students how nouns and verbs form their plurals. But before you do, be sure to explain that almost 99% of the time, the subject of a sentence is a noun, and the other 1% of the time, the subject of a sentence is a pronoun which refers to a  noun.

So then, the noun (or pronoun) of a sentence, must agree with the verb that goes with it.

But first, let’s examine some singular and plural nouns and pronouns.

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