Subject-Verb Agreement

The subject of a sentence is the focus of the sentence, and it performs the action. The verb in a sentence is the action word. Determine what or who is performing the action of the sentence, and then choose the verb form that fits the subject, not the intervening words.

  • My sister plays the French horn.

“Sister” is the person who performs the action of playing. “Plays” is the action performed.

Agreement in Number

Subjects and verbs must agree with on another in number. The form of the verb will vary depending on whether the subject is singular or plural. When making the subject and verb agree, first find the subject and decide whether it is singular or plural.

Memory tip: Generally, if the subject is singular, add an ‘s’ to the verb unless the subject is ‘I’ or ‘you.’ If the subject is plural, do not add an ‘s.’ (Verbs with singular subjects end in ‘s.’ Verbs with plural subjects do not end in ‘s.’)

Exception: Adding ‘s’ to the verb based on whether the subject is singular or plural does not work with forms of the verb ‘to be’: ‘is,’ ‘am,’ ‘are,’ ‘was,’ ‘were,’ ‘be,’ being,’ ‘been.’

  • I am going to pass this English class.
  • May children are all in elementary school.

Here are some common problems in subject verb agreement:

Interrupting Word Groups

Other words can appear between the subject and the verb in a sentence. To identify the subject of a sentence, look for who or what performs the action, not just the word closest to the verb.

  • Students in the lab write.
  • The student in the lab writes.

Inverted Sentences

The subject may appear after the verb:

  • Along the back wall of the house grow beautiful flowers.
    What grows? Flower grow.

The usual order would be:

  • Beautiful flowers grow along the back wall of the house.

Two or More Subjects

If two or more subjects or compound subjects are joined by ‘and,’ use the plural form of the verb. To check the form of the verb, replace the subjects with ‘they.’

  • Paper and pencil are all I need.
    They are all I need.
  • Elaine and Bob play poker.
    They play poker.

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