In any sentence, the subject and verb must agree in number. Below are ten common rules, followed by examples, that every student should know. The examples are shown with the subject in bold and the verb in underline.
In a simple sentence, a singular subject must take the singular form of the verb.
The professor lectures at the front of the classroom.
Her pet is well-behaved.
A tree grows in the forest.
Accordingly, a plural subject must take the plural form of the verb.
The professors lecture at the front of the classroom.
Her pets are well-behaved.
Trees grow in the forest.
When a sentence contains more than one subject, connected by and, use a plural verb.
One teacher and ten students are assigned to each classroom.
The mother bear and her cubs feed on wild berries.
A cab driver and his passenger wait at the stop light.
Some sentences contain one subject and more than one verb. In this case, all verbs must agree with the subject. The subject could be singular or plural.
Holidays mark special occasions and give people a reason to gather.
The koala is native to Australia and lives in its open woodlands.
The books are controversial but tell the truth about that country’s dark history.
Sometimes, a subject and verb is separated by a phrase. In this case, the subject and verb must still agree. The phrase does not play a part in determining agreement.
That mother, with her three screaming children, looks like she could use a vacation.
The trucks, each carrying a different load, are trying to get to their destination.
The only reason I’m going to this concert is to keep an eye on my daughter.
A compound subject refers to a sentence that has more than two subjects (nouns/pronouns). When two or more singular nouns/pronouns are connected by or/nor, a singular verb would be used.
The sculptor or the painter uses a live model as inspiration.
Neither the lion nor the tiger likes being trapped in a cage.
However, when a sentence contains a compound subject with a singular and a plural noun/pronoun and connected by or/nor, apply the rule of proximity. This means that which verb to use is determined by the subject closest to the verb.
The fire chief or the firefighters decide which burning area to combat first.
The firefighters or the fire chief decides which burning area to combat first.
Words like each, either, neither everyone, everybody, anyone, anybody, someone, and somebody are singular and take a singular verb.
Somebody was waiting at the subway platform for the train to come.
After Hurricane Ida, neither of the homes we surveyed is safe to occupy.
Everyone who wants to help with the food drive should go to the pantry.
For sentences that begin with there is/are or there was/were, even though the verb comes before the subject, the same rules apply: verb and subject must agree in number.
There is always a security guard at the bank.
There are always security guards at the bank.
There was only one volunteer at the charity event.
There were many volunteers at the charity event.
Words that imply more than one noun/pronoun (but appear to be singular) such as orchestra, family, group, and team take a singular verb. These are called collective nouns.
The family meets for game night once a week.
A political group is made up of like-minded individuals.
The orchestra plays at the concert hall during the holiday season.