Subject-verb agreement errors stick out like a sore thumb in your writing.
Here are 20 rules about subject-verb agreement.
1. Use verbs that agree with a subject, not with a noun that is part of a modifying phrase or clause between verb and subject:
“The pot of eggs is boiling on the stove.”
2. Use singular or plural verbs that agree with the subject, not with the complement of the subject:
“My favorite type of movie is comedies,” but “Comedies are my favorite type of movie.”
3. Use singular verbs with singular indefinite pronouns — each, the “-bodies,” “-ones,” and “-things” (anybody, everyone, nothing), and the like:
“Neither is correct.” (And, just as in rule number 1, the presence of a modifier is irrelevant: “Neither of them is correct.”)
4. Use plural verbs with plural indefinite pronouns:
“Many outcomes are possible.”
5. Use singular verbs with uncountable nouns that follow an indefinite pronoun:
“All the paint is dried up.”
6. Use plural verbs with countable nouns that follow an indefinite pronoun:
“All the nails are spilled on the floor.”
7. Use plural verbs with compound subjects that include and:
“The dog and the cat are outside.”
8. Use plural verbs or singular verbs, depending on the form of the noun nearest the verb, with compound subjects that include nor or or:
“Either the dog or the cats are responsible for the mess.” (“Either the cats or the dog is responsible for the mess” is also technically correct but is awkward.)
9. Use singular verbs with inverted subjects that include singular nouns:
“Why is my hat outside in the rain?”
10. Use plural verbs with inverted subjects (those beginning with the expletive there rather than the actual subject) that include plural nouns:
“There are several hats outside in the rain.”
11. Use singular or plural verbs with collective nouns depending on meaning:
“His staff is assembled,” but “Staff are asked to go to the conference room immediately.” (In the first sentence, the emphasis is on the body of employees; in the second sentence, the focus is on compliance by each individual in the body of employees.)
12. Use singular verbs for designations of entities, such as nations or organizations, or compositions, such as books or films:
“The United Nations is headquartered in New York.”
13. Use singular verbs for subjects plural in form but singular in meaning:
“Physics is my favorite subject.”
14. Use singular or plural verbs for subjects plural in form but plural or singular in meaning depending on the context:
“The economics of the situation are complicated,” but “Economics is a complicated topic.”
15. Use plural verbs for subjects plural in form and meaning:
“The tweezers are in the cupboard.”
16. Use plural verbs in constructions of the form “one of those (blank) who . . .”:
“I am one of those eccentrics who do not tweet.”
17. Use singular verbs in constructions of the form “the only one of those (blank) who . . .”:
“I am the only one of my friends who does not tweet.”
18. Use singular verbs in constructions of the form “the number of (blank) . . .”:
“The number of people here boggles the mind.”
19. Use plural verbs in constructions of the form “a number of (blank) . . .”:
“A number of people here disagree.”
20. Use singular verbs in construction of the forms “every (blank) . . .” and “many a (blank) . . .”:
“Every good boy does fine”; “Many a true word is spoken in jest.”
ATTEMPT THE FOLLOWING 25 QUESTIONS. THEN CHECK YOUR ANSWERS
Directions: In the blank, use the correct present tense form of the infinitive given at the beginning of each sentence. Also, underline the corresponding verb for each sentence. The first one has been done for you.
1. to have: The cracked windshield, in addition to the torn upholstery and rusted body, ___??__ (ans: has) made Ruth’s ’88 Honda Civic a difficult vehicle to sell.
2. to be: This week’s National Inquisitor claims that there __________ photographs of the Loch Ness Monster eating Elvis.
3. to work: At the McDonald’s on Colonial Drive __________ friends who will stuff four or five extra Chicken McNuggets in a six-piece box for Dante.
4. to crawl: On the tables in the library __________ the many germs that have escaped in the hot breath of hardworking students.
5. to be: None of this breakfast that you cooked __________ fit to eat.
6. to taste: None of these chocolate-broccoli muffins __________ good, either.
7. to have: The whole ant colony, including the queen and all of her drones, __________ swarmed over Tommy’s feet, stinging his ankles.
8. to make: Fifteen gallons of chocolate milk __________ Herbert the elephant a happy pachyderm.
9. to hope: Everyone on the roller coaster, including Martha and Angie, __________ that the hot dogs, onion rings, funnel cake, and cotton candy will stay down during the twisting ride to come.
10. to bother: Neither Fred’s ratty clothes nor his sullen attitude __________ Esmeralda, who lets Fred pick up the check every time they dine out.
11. to hug: That pair of jeans __________ the curves of your body as nicely as the waxed paper on a Tootsie Pop.
12. to annoy: Neither the coughing muffler nor the squeaky brakes __________ Ruth as much as the broken radio in her ’88 Honda Civic.
13. to get: In Florida, alligators usually __________ severe indigestion after eating poodles.
14. to cling: Every cat hair, candy wrapper, and loose thread __________ to the super-charged polyester pants that Theodora loves to wear.
15. to know: Any one of Ms. Orsini’s students __________ the rules that govern subject-verb agreement.
16. to take: The shine on my hardwood floors __________ abuse from the ragged toenails of Floyd, my dog.
17. to have: Neither of those students __________ a clue about the rules governing subject-verb agreement. Pity them both during the quiz.
18. to make: Patience and compassion, in addition to a wallet bulging with money, __________ everyone want Jordan as a friend.
19. to require: Statistics __________ so much homework that Michelle’s poor fingers have permanent indentations from the calculator pads.
20. to come: The committee ___________ from all parts of the city, so we usually have to start late because so many members get stuck in traffic.
21. to believe: The committee ___________ that waiting until everyone arrives is more important than starting on time.
22. to be: When Dad is angry, there __________ fire flickering in his eyes as well as smoke escaping from his ears.
23. to brighten: When Matthew is having a bad day, old episodes of The X-Files always __________ his mood.
24. to hit: Each of those opera singers regularly ___________ notes high enough to break glass and rupture eardrums.
25. to be: Either the fried oyster sandwich or shrimp pizza __________ the best choice for lunch at Crusty’s Seafood Restaurant.
ANSWERS AND EXPLANATIONS
[Windshield is the subject. Ignore the words in the prepositional phrase beginning with in addition to …. The subject of a sentence is never part of the prepositional phrase.]
There can never be a subject. The plural noun photographs is the subject for the plural verb are.]
[Prepositional phrases like at the McDonald’s and on Colonial Drive never contain the subject of the sentence. The plural noun friends is the subject for the plural verb work.]
[Prepositional phrases like on the tables and in the library never contain the subject of a sentence. The plural noun germs is the subject for the plural verb crawl.]
The indefinite pronoun none is referring to dinner, so none is singular and requires a singular verb.]
[The indefinite pronoun none is referring to muffins, so none is plural and requires a plural verb.]
[Ignore the interrupting phrase that begins with including …. The subject of the sentence is colony, a singular thing that requires a singular verb.]
Quantities representing a total amount are singular.
[Everyone, a singular indefinite pronoun, requires a singular verb. Martha and Angie follow including, so they are not part of the subject of the sentence.]
[When you have neither … nor, the subject closest to the verb–in this case attitude–counts. Because attitude is singular, use bothers, the singular form of the verb.]
[That pair, which is singular, requires a singular verb.]
[When you have neither … nor, use the subject closest to the verb, in this case brakes. Because the noun brakes is plural, use annoy, a plural verb.]
The noun alligators, a plural subject, requires get, a plural verb.]
[The indefinite pronoun every requires a singular verb.]
Any one, a singular indefinite pronoun, requires a singular verb.]
On my hardwood floors is a prepositional phrase and does not contain the subject. Shine, a singular noun, is the subject and thus requires a singular verb.]
[Neither, a singular indefinite pronoun, requires a singular verb.]
Patience and compassion, a plural subject, requires a plural verb
[Statistics, a single area of study, requires a singular verb.]
[Committee, a collective noun, can be either singular or plural. When the members are NOT acting as a unit, treat the collective noun as plural and use a plural verb.]
[Committee, a collective noun, can be either singular or plural. When the members are acting as a single unit–everyone doing the same thing at the same time–treat the collective noun as singular and use a singular verb.]
There can never be the subject of the sentence. Fire, a singular noun, is the subject for the singular verb is.]
Episodes, a plural subject, requires a plural verb.]
Each, a singular indefinite pronoun, requires a singular verb.]
When you have either … or, use the subject closest to the verb, in this case pizza. Because pizza is singular, use is, a singular verb.