Subject-Verb Agreement

A verb must agree with its subject in person and number.

16.1 Intervening Prepositional Phrases

Do not mistake a word in a prepositional phrase for the subject of a sentence.

The taste of the cherries surprise/surprises us.

The spices in the food is/are interesting.


16.2 Agreement with Linking Verbs

Do not be confused by a predicate nominative that is different in number from the subject. Only the subject affects the number of the linking verb.

The lightest crate is/are two tons.

Recent studies on the behavior of wild animals is/are his topic for the day.


16.3 Agreement in Inverted Sentences

In an inverted sentence—a sentence in which the subject follows the verb—take care in locating the simple subject, and make sure that the verb agrees with the subject.

In the jungle roar/roars the lions.

In a large cage at the zoo rest/rests a noble lion.

Tip: In inverted sentences beginning with there or here, look for the subject after the verb. There or here is almost never the subject.

There is/are a lion in the jungle.

Here goes/go the two ambulances.

Tip: In questions an auxiliary verb may come before the subject. Look for the subject between the auxiliary verb and the main verb.

Does that lion live in the jungle?

Do those jungles contain lions?


16.4 Agreement with Special Subjects

Collective Nouns

Consider a collective noun singular when it refers to a groups as a whole. Consider a collective noun plural when it refers to each member of a group individually.

The committee decide/decides.

The committee sign/signs their names.


Special Nouns

Certain nouns that end in –s, such as mumps, measles, and mathematics, take singular verbs.

Mumps is/are a disease.

Certain other nouns that end in –s, such as scissors, pants, binoculars, and eyeglasses, take plural verbs.

Your eyeglasses needs/need cleaning.

Many nouns that end in –ics may be singular or plural, depending upon their meaning.

Statistics is/are an interesting subject.

Statistics show/shows that women live longer than men.


Nouns of Amount

When a noun of amount refers to a total that is considered as one unit, it is singular. When it refers to a number of individual units, it is plural.


Three dollars is/are not too much for that book.

Three dollars is/are on the table.



A title is always singular, even if a noun within the title is plural.

Great Expectations is one of the best-loved novels in English literature.


16.5 Agreement with Compound Subjects

Agreement with Compound Subjects

A compound subject that is joined by and or both…and is plural unless its parts belong to one unit or they both refer to the same person, place, or thing.

The lion and the tiger is/are roaring.

Both skiing and skating is/are fun.

Peanut butter and jelly is/are a favorite combination.

His friend and companion accompany/accompanies him.


Compound Subjects Joined by Or or Nor

With compound subjects joined by or or nor (or by either…or or neither…nor), the verb always agrees with the subject nearer the verb.

Neither the lion nor the tigers is/are roaring.

Either the lion or the tiger is/are roaring.

Neither the lions nor the tiger roar/roars.


Many a, Every, and Each with Compound Subjects

When many a, every, or each precedes a compound subjects, the subject is considered singular.

Many a giraffe and elephant live/lives in the nature preserve.

Every chair, bench, and table was/were taken.

Each lion and tiger is/are roaring.


16.6 Intervening Expressions

If a singular subject is linked to another noun by an intervening expression, such as accompanied by, the subject is still considered singular.

The pianist, as well as the guitarist, the saxophonist, and the lead singer, is/are late.

Sleet, in addition to snow, is/are expected tomorrow.


16.7 Indefinite Pronouns as Subjects

A verb must agree in number with an indefinite pronoun subject.

Indefinite pronouns can be divided into three groups:
















no one






















Everybody is/are going to the rodeo.

No one in the audience look/looks upset.

Something in the kitchen smell/smells good.

Both of the children is/are in school this morning.

Many of the books was/were donated to the library.

A pronoun from the group labeled singular or plural can be either singular or plural, depending upon the noun to which it refers.

Some of the dessert is/are left.

Some of the commuters was/were caught in the rainstorm.