Making sure subjects and verbs agree in English can be deceptively difficult. At first glance, the process appears relatively simple. However, like many aspects of modern English, exceptions and complications soon begin to crop up.
This subject-verb agreement guide will be split into two parts. The first part will cover singular subjects, compound subjects, and expressions of quantity. Part two will explain how to make subjects and verbs agree when using “there” with “to be” verbs and discuss some of the irregularities than can occur in English subject-verb agreement.
Subjects and verbs in English must agree with one another in terms of number. In simple present tense, nouns and verbs take plural forms in opposite ways. A noun takes a final s/es in its plural form. A verb takes a final s/es in its singular form.
John works at a grocery store.
My friend lives in Atlanta.
The employees work most holidays.
My friends live in Atlanta.
Sometimes a phrase or clause interrupts the subject and its verb. This interrupting phrase/clause does not affect subject-verb agreement.
Marie’s paper on the history of English warfare is due at the end of the week.
That movie about an art heist looks exciting.
The examples in Marie’s warfare paper are extremely detailed.
The films out in theaters now all look boring.
A gerund used as the subject of a sentence always takes a singular verb.
Folding laundry is tedious.
Finishing chores is satisfying.
Two or more subjects connected by and take a plural verb. The subjects are treated grammatically as if they are a single, collective entity.
Emily and Sarah attend Kennesaw State University.
My uncle, aunt, and cousin live in Canada.
Exception: Compound subjects preceded by each and every require singular verbs. The reason for this is that “each” and “every” are always followed by singular nouns. This rule applies even when a sentence contains a compound subject.
Each cost is listed in the report. (Singular subject)
Each cost and benefit is listed in the report. (Compound subject)
Every manager receives an annual evaluation. (Singular)
Every manager, assistant manager, and associate receives an annual evaluation. (Compound)
Things get a little trickier when compound subject are connected by or/nor. In this case, the verb should agree with the noun closest to the verb.
Suzy or Mike needs to pick up the kids after school.
Either the teacher or the students are correct.
Either the students or the teacher is correct.
Neither the manager nor the associates recognize the problem.
Neither the associates nor the manager recognizes the problem.
Expressions of Quantity
When expressing a quantity (X of Y), the singularity or plurality of the verb is usually determined by the noun that follows of.
Some of the food is delicious.
Most of the musical is boring.
A lot of the book is repetitive.
Half of the dessert is hers.
Some of the dishes are delicious.
Most movies are boring.
A lot of the books are repetitive.
Half of the cookies are hers.
Exceptions: One of, each of, and every one of always take singular verbs. This is similar to the each/every exception for compound subjects.
One of the guests is late.
Each of the guests is late.
Every one of the guests is late.
None of + plural noun used to universally take a singular verb. However, using a plural verb with none of has become increasingly common as the language has evolved. It is now widely-considered acceptable to use none of + plural noun + plural verb in informal English. You may even encounter it in formal writing.
Formal (Plural noun + Singular verb):
None of the guests is late.
Informal (Plural noun + Plural verb):
None of the guests are late.