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Home » Subject-Verb Agreement: Unraveling the Basic Rules

Subject-Verb Agreement: Unraveling the Basic Rules



In the realm of grammar, precision is paramount. Effective communication hinges on the proper arrangement of words, and one fundamental aspect that governs the coherence of sentences is subject-verb agreement. It might seem like a straightforward concept, but mastering the intricacies of subject-verb agreement can be a journey of its own. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the basic rules that govern subject-verb agreement, shedding light on how to ensure harmony between subjects and verbs in your writing.

Understanding the Basics

At its core, subject-verb agreement involves ensuring that the verb in a sentence agrees in number with the subject. In other words, if the subject is singular, the verb should be singular, and if the subject is plural, the verb should be plural. Let’s delve into the foundational rules to grasp this concept more effectively.

Rule 1: Singular Subjects and Singular Verbs

When your sentence has a singular subject, the accompanying verb should also be singular. This creates a grammatically correct and harmonious sentence.


  • The cat sleeps on the windowsill.
  • My sister enjoys playing the piano.

Rule 2: Plural Subjects and Plural Verbs

Conversely, when your sentence features a plural subject, the verb must align in number and be plural as well.


  • Dogs bark loudly in the neighborhood.
  • The students are studying for their exams.
  1. Navigating Tricky Situations

While the basic rules provide a solid foundation, the English language is renowned for its exceptions and nuances. Let’s explore some scenarios that might introduce complexity into subject-verb agreement.

Rule 3: Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns, such as “everyone,” “someone,” “nobody,” and “each,” can be tricky when it comes to subject-verb agreement. The general rule is that singular indefinite pronouns take singular verbs, and plural indefinite pronouns take plural verbs.


  • Everyone is welcome to join the meeting.
  • Many of the books have been misplaced.

Rule 4: Collective Nouns

Collective nouns, representing a group of individuals or things, can be singular or plural depending on the context. When the emphasis is on the group as a whole, use a singular verb. When the focus is on the individuals within the group, opt for a plural verb.


  • The team is celebrating its victory. (Singular emphasis)
  • The team are discussing their individual strategies. (Plural emphasis)

Rule 5: Compound Subjects

Compound subjects, formed by joining two or more subjects with “and,” generally take a plural verb.


  • Jenny and Mark are going to the movies.
  • The cat and the dog play together in the garden.

However, when the subjects are considered a single unit or refer to the same person or thing, a singular verb is used.


  • Peanut butter and jelly is my favorite sandwich. (Considered a single unit)
  • The singer and guitarist is the same person. (Referring to the same person)
  1. Special Considerations for Specific Words

Certain words and phrases may introduce unique considerations when it comes to subject-verb agreement. Let’s explore these special cases.

Rule 6: Titles of Works and Singular Nouns

Titles of works, such as books, movies, or songs, are treated as singular entities, even though they may contain plural words.


  • “The Lord of the Rings” is a classic trilogy.
  • “The Beatles” was a revolutionary band.

Additionally, certain singular nouns, despite ending in -s, require singular verbs.


  • Mathematics is a challenging subject.
  • News travels fast in the digital age.

Note: Ensuring Agreement in Complex Sentences

As your writing becomes more sophisticated, you may encounter complex sentences with multiple clauses and elements. Maintaining subject-verb agreement in such scenarios is crucial for clarity and coherence.

Rule 7: Agreement in Compound Subjects with “or” and “nor”

When dealing with compound subjects connected by “or” or “nor,” the verb agrees with the subject closer to it.


  • Neither the teacher nor the students are satisfied.
  • Either the cat or the dogs are responsible for the mess.

Rule 8: Agreement in Compound Subjects with “and”

When the compound subject is connected by “and,” and the subjects are plural, the verb should be plural.


  • Bread and butter are essential for a good breakfast.
  • The sun and the moon rise in the east.

However, if one of the elements is singular, the verb should be singular.


  • The cat and the dogs love to play. (Plural subject)
  • The cat and the owner is napping. (Singular owner)

Rule 9: Agreement in Sentences with Prepositional Phrases

In sentences with prepositional phrases, the verb agrees with the subject, not the object of the preposition.


  • The collection of stamps is impressive.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Even with a solid understanding of the rules, certain common mistakes can still sneak into your writing. Being aware of these pitfalls can help you refine your subject-verb agreement skills.

Mistake 1: Intervening Phrases

Intervening phrases between the subject and the verb can create confusion. The verb must agree with the actual subject, not the words within the intervening phrases.


  • The collection of stamps, as well as some rare coins, were stolen.


  • The collection of stamps, as well as some rare coins, was stolen.

Mistake 2: Distractions in Long Sentences

Long sentences with multiple elements can distract you from ensuring proper subject-verb agreement. Break down complex sentences to identify the subject and verb pair accurately.


  • One of the reasons for her success, besides talent and hard work, are her determination.


  • One of the reasons for her success, besides talent and hard work, is her determination.

Mistake 3: Agreement with Words in Between

Avoid being misled by words placed between the subject and the verb. The agreement is based on the subject, not the intervening words.


  • The list of items to be discussed, including the budget and the agenda, are on the table.


  • The list of items to be discussed, including the budget and the agenda, is on the table.

Practical Tips for Improving Subject-Verb Agreement

Achieving mastery in subject-verb agreement requires practice and a keen eye for detail. Here are some practical tips to hone your skills:

Tip 1: Proofread Cautiously

After completing a piece of writing, dedicate time to proofreading specifically for subject-verb agreement. This focused approach allows you to catch any overlooked errors and refine your writing.

Tip 2: Utilize Grammar Tools

Leverage grammar-checking tools and software to assist you in identifying potential subject-verb agreement issues. These tools can serve as valuable companions in your writing journey.

Tip 3: Seek Feedback

If possible, seek feedback from peers or mentors on your writing. External perspectives can provide insights into areas where subject-verb agreement may need refinement.

Tip 4: Engage in Exercises

Engage in exercises specifically designed to reinforce subject-verb agreement rules. This hands-on approach can enhance your understanding and application of these.