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Error 4: Subject-Verb Agreement Error (s/v)

The subject and verb must agree in number: both must be singular, or both must be plural. Problems can occur in the present tense because you must add an s or an es at the end of the verb when the subject performing the action is third-person singular. (A singular subject would be he, she, it, or words for which these pronouns could substitute.)

In the following examples, the subject is in bold, and the verb is in italics.

  • Subject-verb agreement error: They goes to town. (They is plural, but goes is the third-person singular verb.)
  • Correct: They go to town.
  • Subject-verb agreement error: She go to town. (She is singular, but go is the plural verb.)
  • Correct: She goes to town.

Note: The simplest way to determine whether a verb is singular or plural is to ask which form of the verb you would use with it and which form you would use with they. It uses singular verbs, and they uses plural verbs.

  • It eats, sleeps, runs, wishes, dreams, hates (singular)
  • They eat, sleep, run, wish, dream, hate (plural)

Checking for Subject-Verb Agreement

There are many rules of subject-verb agreement. They are listed below in the order in which you are likely to encounter them. The first few rules are the ones most frequently broken.

All the examples in this section are correct.


1. A subject and a verb must agree even when other words or phrases come between them. Frequently, prepositional phrases come between subjects and verbs. Ignore these prepositional phrases.

  • Example: The group of students is going on a field trip. (The subject is group, so the verb should be is. You should ignore the prepositional phrase of students.)
  • Example: The teacher, along with her students, finds the instructions confusing. (The subject is teacher, so the verb should be finds. You should ignore the prepositional phrase along with her students.)


2. Subjects joined by "and" usually take a plural verb.

  • Example: Joe and Mary go to town.

Note: For phrases like each girl and boy or every cat and bird, where the subjects are considered individually, use a singular verb.

  • Example: Each girl and boy in the class has a different story about the field trip.

Note: Use a singular verb for two singular subjects that form or are one thing.

  • Example: Iced tea and lemon quenches your thirst on a hot day.


3. Collective nouns are words that refer to groups of people or things (e.g., class, jury, family, crowd, and audience). Collective nouns can be either singular or plural depending on the context of the sentence. If the context of the sentence makes you visualize the group doing something together, as one unit, then the noun is singular and takes a singular verb. If the context of the sentence makes you visualize different members of the group performing different actions, then the noun is plural and takes a plural verb.

  • Example: The group agrees that action is necessary. (The group is acting as a unit, so the word group is singular.)
  • Example: The old group have gone their separate ways. (The group members are acting individually, so the word group is plural in this sentence.)

Note: To avoid awkward-sounding plural collective nouns, place the members of before the collective noun.

  • Example: The members of the old group have gone their separate ways.

4. Indefinite pronouns that include one, body, or thing require singular verbs. The words each, either, every, much, and neither also require singular verbs.

  • Example: Neither wants to work hard.
  • Example: Everybody knows the answer to that question.


5. The indefinite pronouns all, any, more, most, none, and some can be either singular or plural, depending on whether the word they refer to is singular or plural.

  • Example: All the money is reserved for emergencies. (Here, all refers to money, which is singular.)
  • Example: All the funds are reserved for emergencies. (Here, all refers to funds, which is plural.)


6. The indefinite pronouns both, few, many, and several take plural verbs.

  • Example: Both know the answer to the question.

7. The verb must agree with its subject even when the subject follows the verb. Questions, sentences beginning with here or there, and sometimes sentences beginning with a prepositional phrase place the subject after the verb.

  • Example: Is voting a right or a privilege?
  • Example: Are a right and a privilege the same thing?
  • Example: Playing in the sand were three children and their mother.
  • Example: Here are my birth certificate and passport.
  • Example: There is my coat.


8. Many nouns ending in -ics (such as economics, statistics, and politics) take singular or plural verbs, depending on how they are used. When these words refer to a course of study or a body of knowledge, they are singular. When they refer to activities or qualities, they are plural.

  • Example: Statistics (a course of study) is the one course Beth failed.
  • Example: The statistics indicate that the demand for American-made products is increasing.


9. Subjects that look plural (because they end in s) but refer to only one thing are singular.

  • Example: The lens is broken. (The plural of lens is lenses.)


10. Some nouns (such as glasses, pants, pliers, scissors, and trousers) are considered plural unless they are preceded by the phrase pair of.

  • Example: My glasses need cleaning.
  • Example: This pair of glasses needs cleaning.


11. A linking verb (usually a form of the verb to be) agrees with the subject (which usually comes before the verb), not the subject complement (which usually comes after the verb).

  • Example: Low wages are the problem.
  • Example: The problem is low wages.

12. In a dependent clause with a relative pronoun (who, that, which), the verb agrees with the antecedent.

  • Example: I have a friend who studies day and night. (The antecedent of who is the third-person singular noun friend, so the verb in the dependent clause is third-person singular, studies.)
  • Example: Bill bought one of the three thousand cars that have leather upholstery. (The antecedent of that is cars, so the verb is third-person plural, have.)


13. Titles and words referred to as words take singular verbs.

  • Example: Star Wars is my favorite movie.
  • Example: Children is misspelled in your essay.

14. With subjects joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the subject closer to it.

  • Example: Neither the teacher nor the students understand.
  • Example: Either her brothers or Mary mows the lawn.

Note: For a more natural-sounding sentence, place the plural part of a compound subject second.

  • Example: Either Mary or her brothers mow the lawn.

A word of caution:

When we speak, we don't always pronounce the "s" on words that end in the "sts"and "sks" combination.

Examples:

He asks (not ask) too many questions.

She insists (not insist) on always having her way.


Exercise

Please print this exercise, mark the correct answers, and check your work against the version with answers.

Exercise on Subject-Verb Agreement Errors

Exercise on Subject-Verb Agreement Errors with Answers

 

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