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Show how to avoid common subject-verb agreement errors, such as:
compound subjects
misleading phrases
words such as everybody, neither, either, anyone, no one, etc.
misleading singular subjects, such as news, economics, etc.
collective nouns, and
any other constructions that lead to mistakes in subject-verb agreement

This packet explains common errors in subject-verb agreement and how to correct them. It also provides a short quiz on subject-verb agreement.

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Here's the Skinny

Subject-verb agreement, in its simplest form, means not to use a plural verb with a singular subject, and vice versa.

Therefore, "I were speaking" is incorrect, whereas "I was speaking" is correct. "I" is singular, therefore the verb must be singular.

Source: DB Shaffer

Variations On the Theme, Part One

A verb should not agree with nouns and pronouns between it and the subject.


"The cause for all the requests and demands was not apparent."  "Cause," the subject, is singular, therefore the verb is "was," rather than "were."  "Requests and demands" may confuse people into thinking that the verb should be plural.

"I, the teacher, am the one to determine that." "I," the subject, is singular, therefore the verb is "am," rather than "are."  "The teacher," while also singular, is not the subject.

"I, together with John and Mary, am going to the beach."  Again, "I" is singular, therefore the verb is "am."  "John and Mary," while plural, are not the subjects.

Source: DB SHAFFER; "Errors In English and Ways to Correct Them," by Harry Shaw

Variations on the Theme, Part Two

The following pronouns are singular:

Each, everyone, everybody, anyone, anybody, someone, somebody, no one, nobody, one, another, anything, either, and neither.


Each of those horses has its own stall. "Horses," though plural, is not the subject; it's the object of the preposition "of."  Many writers confuse that concept.

One of the politicians has made a mistake.  "Politicians," though plural, is not the subject. Again, it is the object of the preposition "of."

Exception: "None" (literally "not one") is, traditionally, a singular subject.  Languages evolve, and "none" is now used in both the singular and plural. It may be considered plural when the phrase that modifies "none" is plural and . Example:"None of the men were bodybuilders."  Its singular corollary would be "None of the us was a bodybuilder." (Note that "bodybuilder" is also singular or plural in their respective sentences.)

Source: DB Shaffer; Errors In English and Ways to Correct Them, by Harry Shaw.

"Variations," Part Three

Nouns plural in form, but singular in meaning, take a singular verb.  Examples: times, politics, news, economics, ethics, mumps. 

"Physics, they were told, is the study of heat, light, sound, electricity, and mechanics."

Subjects plural in form, which indicate a quantity or number, take a singular verb.  


Ten miles is too far to walk.

Two from five leaves three.

Use a singular verb with sums of money and periods of time.

Ten dollars is a high price to pay.

Five years is the maximum sentence for that offense.

Use a plural verb with two or more subjects joined by and.

Both the house and the automobile were painted green.

Exception: When the two subjects form a single thought or entity, a singular verb is appropriate. Example: His friend and colleague was leaving for Europe that evening.

If the subjects differ in number or person, the verb agrees with the latter.

Neither Jack nor the other men know.  And, Neither Jack nor the other man knows.

The expletive "there" is singular or plural depending on the subject that follows.   

Fortunately, there exist forces which can help us.  Or, In the meadow there stands a towering tree.

Collective nouns such as team and staff may be either singular or plural, depending on their use in the sentence.

"The staff is in a meeting."  Staff is used as a single entity here.

"The staff are in disagreement about the findings."  Staff are acting as individuals in this example.

Source: DB Shaffer; "Errors In English and Ways to Correct Them," by Harry Shaw; "The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation," by Jane Straus


Decide if the verb is or is not correct.

1. At the end of the story, they was living happily ever after.

2. Al and Sam go to the beach to surf with heir friends.

3. The group of children from that school has never seen the ocean.

4. Neither she nor they were willing to predict the election results.

5. His dogs, which are kept outside, bark all day long.

6. There's three strawberries left.

7. Nora, of all the candidates who are running, is the best.

8. None of them is coming home tonight.



1. they were living; 2. correct; 3. correct; 4. correct; 5. correct; 6. there are; 7. correct; 8. none . . . are coming

Source: "The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation," by Jane Straus