SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT

The most important thing to remember with subject-verb agreement is that:

Singular subjects need singular verbs.
Plural subjects need plural verbs.

This may seem straightforward. However, there are some areas where errors are quite common.


Common Errors

1. Anyone/anybody, everyone/everybody, someone/somebody, no-one/nobody
These indefinite pronouns are always singular and require singular verbs.

 

e.g.

 

 

Everyone has to carry an I.D. card .

Somebody has left a mobile phone in the lecture hall.

No-one have ever seen her again.

 

 

2. All, some, none
Some indefinite pronouns can be both singular and plural, depending on what they are referring to. (Plural countable nouns take plural verbs, uncountable nouns take singular verbs.) Be careful when choosing a verb to accompany such pronouns.

 

e.g

 

Countable noun:

Some of the assignments are missing.
The Company is involved in other lawsuits, but none are considered valid.
These innovations are all designed to create a sense of connection.

Some of the dinosaurs is missing.

 

e.g Uncountable noun:

All the wine has been drunk.
During fiscal 2001, all remaining outstanding debt was cleared.

None of the petrol were spilled.

 

 

3. Each
'Each' is often followed by a phrase ending in a plural word (e.g. each of the students
íK), but 'each' is always singular and requires a singular verb.

 

e.g.

Each of the students is responsible for submitting work punctually.
Each preferred share was converted into 1.1273 common shares.
Each Committee is directed by an appointed board.

The Principle asks that each are considered equally.

 

 

4. Neither,either
Strictly speaking, these pronouns are singular and require singular verbs even though they can seem to be referring to two things.

e.g.

 

Neither of the books is useful.

Either is fine with me.

Neither the skirt nor the trousers are suitable.

 

However, in informal writing, neither and either sometimes take a plural verb when they are followed by a prepositional phrase beginning with of. This is particularly true with question forms.

e.g.

 

Have either of you read the assignment?

 

Are either of the companies listed?

 

 

5. There and here
In sentence constructions starting with 'there' or 'here', the subject determines whether the verb is singular or plural.

 

e.g.

There are two reasons for this.
There is no reason for this.
Here come the police. (uncountable noun)
Here comes a policewoman.

There is a number of different possibilities.

 

 

6. Plural nouns
Some nouns are always plural and require plural verbs. These include glasses, trousers, scissors, remains etc. However, if they are preceded by 'a pair of', the verb is singular because the word pair becomes the subject.

 

e.g.

The goods were found to be faulty.
His remains were buried in the jungle.
My trousers are too long.
That pair of trousers is too long.

My glasses is broken.

 

 

7. Singular nouns ending in 's'
Conversely, some words end in -s and appear to be plural but are really singular and require singular verbs.

e.g.

 

The news is bad.

Measles is a dangerous disease for pregnant women.

Mumps aren't pleasant either.

 

 

8. All, any, more, most and some as subjects
When all, any, more, most and some act as subjects, the verb can be singular or plural, depending on the meaning.
Fractional expressions such as half of, a part of, a percentage of, a majority of are also sometimes singular and sometimes plural.

The expression "more than one" takes a singular verb

 

e.g.

 

Singular verb:

More than one student has tried this.
50% of the university was destroyed by fire.
A large percentage of the police is in favour of carrying guns.

Some girls likes to drive motor bikes, but not many.

 

e.g Plural verb:
Some of the members are still waiting.
50% of the parents were at the school Governors' meeting.

More than one person have drowned there.

 


Links:
This website gives a comprehensive explanation, 3 quizzes and an optional PowerPoint tutorial on subject-verb agreement.
http://webster.commnet.edu/grammar/sv_agr.htm
(Accessed 7 February 2003)


This website gives the Online Writing Lessons handout, with self-check exercises.
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/esl/eslsubverb.html
(Accessed 7 February 2003)


This website gives 10 rules for subject-verb agreement, with examples.
http://www.asu.edu/duas/wcenter/subject.html
(Accessed 7 February 2003)