Subject-verb agreement is relatively straightforward. If your subject is singular, use a singular verb. If your subject is plural, use a plural verb. For example, consider the verb “walk.” Whether “walk” is singular or plural depends on the subject.
- Singular: “John walks the dog.”
- Plural: “They walk the dog.”
Seems simple enough, right? Well, things can get a little complicated when there is more than one subject.
Subjects Separated by “Or”
This is especially true in cases with two subjects separated by “or.” When you have two subjects separated by “or,” the verb should agree with the subject closest to it.
Incorrect: “If Tom or his friends was injured…”
Correct: “If Tom or his friends were injured…”
In this case, “his friends” is closest to the verb, so you would make the verb plural.
Subjects Separated Commas
Commas that separate two subjects can also make things more confusing.
Incorrect: John, along with his wife, go to the gym every other day.
Correct: John, along with his wife, goes to the gym every other day.
The first example looks like it should be correct because the sentence is referring to John and his wife; however, the comma separates John from his wife and makes him the primary focus of the sentence.
Subjects Connected by “And”
This one is easier to comprehend because “and” links both subjects, while commas and “or” in the previous examples divides them.
Incorrect: “The cat and the dog sleeps on the floor.”
Correct: “The cat and the dog sleep on the floor.”
Subject-verb agreement is also more complex for indefinite pronouns, such as “everybody,” “anybody,” “neither,” “no one,” etc. This can be confusing if you aren’t sure whether the subject is singular or plural.
For example, “everybody,” “everyone,” and “everything” might seem like they are plural, but they never are. They are always singular. If it ends in “-body,” “-thing,” or “-one,” it is singular. So the verbs after them should be singular.
“Neither,” “each,” and “either” are also always singular.
Incorrect: “Neither child know the end of the movie.”
Correct: “Neither child knows the end of the movie.”
Incorrect: “Everybody at the dance think the music is too loud.”
Correct: “Everybody at the dance thinks the music is too loud.”
To see how well you now understand subject-verb agreement, take a few quizzes from Towson University and ChompChomp.com
For more help with agreement, check out last week’s post on pronoun-antecedent agreement and come back next week to read about properly using punctuation.
And as always, if you need help with content writing, give us a call at 888-521-3880.