In this Subject-Verb Agreement tutorial, we cover the basic rules with examples to learn before you start your practice exercises and GMAT mock tests. Ensure that you’ve read the basic article on nouns, pronouns, verbs and adjectives before reading further.
The basic rule about subject-verb agreement is quite simple:
For a sentence to make sense, the verb has to agree with the subject in number.
A singular verb is used for a singular noun/pronoun while a plural verb is used for a plural noun/ pronoun.
1) William (singular noun) studies (singular verb) for an hour everyday.
2) The boys (plural noun) study (plural verb) for an hour everyday.
3) We (plural pronoun) try (plural verb) not to eat out too often.
For compound subjects where ‘and’ is used to join the individual nouns or pronouns, the verb used is also plural.
1) My mother and her friends go for a walk in the garden.
2) George and Jessy are married.
3) Every Sunday, Amy and I spend the morning at the training institute.
There may be some exceptions where in spite of using ‘and’, the nouns used act as a single entity. For example: Law and order is an important aspect that needs to be addressed.
Let’s examine the case of compound subjects joined by ‘or’, ‘nor’, where one noun/pronoun is singular and the other is plural.
1) Stephen or his sisters pay a visit to Aunt Anne every week.
2) The two team members or their manager attends the seminar every weekend.
In this case, the verb needs to agree with the part of the subject nearer to it.
Sometimes there may be a phrase or a clause sandwiched between the subject and the verb. Here the verb has to agree with the noun/pronoun in the subject irrespective of the noun used in the phrase.
1) One of the boys is coming here.
2) The girls waiting near the gate are my friends.
3) The men who participated in the marathon were tired.
4) The number of mosquitoes has increased.
These nouns take a singular verb as they act as one whole entity.
1) The crowd has dispersed.
2) Our team has won the match.
3) The class starts at 10 a.m.
However, see the examples below:
1) The members of the team are excited about the match.
2) All family members have been working hard to decorate the house for the party.
In these examples, though a collective noun is used, we are referring to the members of the group and hence the verb used would also be plural.
Personal pronouns ‘he, she, it’ take a singular verb and ‘we, you, they’ take a plural verb. Following are the examples of subject-verb agreement for sentences beginning with personal pronouns:
1) We go (plural verb) for a jog in the evening.
2) He was (singular verb) happy to meet his old friends after a long time.
3) You were (plural verb) on time.
4) It is (singular verb) a major issue that needs to be addressed.
5) You know (plural verb) everything.
When the subject has a singular indefinite pronoun, we use a singular verb.
1) Each of these problems is very difficult.
2) Everyone is home on Sundays.
3) Neither of the boys has completed the work.
Other singular indefinite pronouns: either, neither, someone, somebody, something, anyone, anybody, anything, no one, nothing, nobody, everybody, everything.
Similarly, if the subject has a plural indefinite pronoun, we use a plural verb.
1) Few have attempted the difficult question.
2) Elvin and Michael are good friends. Both go to the same college.
Other plural indefinite pronouns: many, both, several
For ‘Every’, we use a singular verb.
1) Every citizen has the right to vote.
2) Every child gets a chance to learn music here.
Some nouns occur as a pair and hence take a plural verb
1) My scissors are with you.
2) My trousers are too long.
Other examples: Shorts, pants, jeans
However, note that it differs as seen in the example below:
A pair of scissors is lying behind the desk.
Here instead of ‘scissors’, we are referring to ‘a pair of scissors’. So we use the singular verb ‘is’ for the noun ‘pair’ instead of ‘scissors’.
Certain words like news, politics, physics, economics, sound plural but take a singular verb.
1) Mathematics is more interesting than other subjects taught in school.
2) Measles is prevented by taking a vaccine.
Also read How to improve Sentence Correction