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Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-Verb Agreement

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson teaches subject-verb agreement.

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Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

So what are we going to learn today? We'll be learning all about subject verb agreement-- what this is, and how writers sometimes mix it up. We'll look at plenty of examples, too.

First, though, let's look at some definitions so we're all on the same page before we get into any detail here. A subject is the noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that represents the focus of a clause. And if the clause contains a verb, the subject is the agent that does the verb action. For our purposes today, we'll be looking at that last bit-- the agent that does the verb.

And a verb, that's a word that defines action or indicates a state of being-- what the subjects are or are doing. In English, verbs must shift to agree with the number of their subjects, either singular or plural. And keep in mind that verbs only have to shift in the present tense, so that's all we'll be looking at.

Now let's see some examples. Here, again, the only way to learn this stuff is to see it in action, or to see its inaction, perhaps. For example, this first sentence, "The door are unlocked." It should sound wrong, because it is. The verb "are" is in the plural form, but the subject-- the door-- is singular. So, "The door is unlocked." This sounds and looks much better, because now its subject and verb match.

This one's a little more complicated, though. "One of the doors are unlocked." It almost sounds right, doesn't it? But what's the subject? The phrase, "one of the doors." Literally, one of the doors. It's singular, and so the verb should be singular. "One of the doors is unlocked." And verbs can also mismatch plural subjects, as in "both doors is unlocked." It should be pretty clear by now that "both doors are unlocked" is the correct way to say this.

Hopefully, those seemed pretty easy for you. If subject and verb agreement was as simple as this though, there'd be no need for this lesson. But unfortunately, English is a little more complicated than that. We're going to go over some of the special situations-- sentence structures that can sometimes cause experienced writers to slip up from time to time. Some are simple, others just seem that way.

For example, we've got two subjects joined by "and," as in "Marie and John is running away." What do we do? The verb should be plural, right? Since it's got two subjects, Marie and John. So "Marie and John are running away." Or how about this one. "The dog and the cat plays outside." Here again, there are two subjects, so it should be "The dog and the cat play outside."

And what about this sentence? "Either Marie or John are running away." This time, because we've got an "or" instead of an "and," there's only one subject-- either Marie or John. And so the verb should be singular, "Either Marie or John is running away."

And this one, "The nut or bolt need replacing." Again, since there's only one subject, it should read "The nut or bolt needs replacing."

And what about group subjects, as in "The family enter the restaurant"? Even though the family no doubt incorporates more than one member, as long as it's acting together, it's one subject. And so it should be "The family enters the restaurant."

Similarly, the sentence "One of the teams are cheating" is also incorrect, as the subject is "one of the teams." So even though, at first, "One of the teams is cheating" might sound wrong, but that's just because of the proximity of the word "teams," which is not the subject of the verb "is."

Now we've got just a few more special scenarios to cover. Ready? The first one we'll look at is this kind of sentence-- "The little boy, along with his parents, play in the yard." It might seem correct at first glance, but that's just because we have something between the subject and the verb-- "along with his parents." The subject is still singular though, so it should be "The boy, along with his parents, plays in the yard."

Or how about this one? "The old woman with 20 cats live in that house." Here again, the subject is singular-- the old woman. And so it should be "The old woman with 20 cats lives in that house."

And how do we deal with pronouns? This sentence, "Everyone love Popsicles" is wrong, even though it might seem like the pronoun "everyone" should be plural. It's not. Think about it. Literally, every one. And so the correct way would be to say "Everyone loves Popsicles."

And what about this one? "Many disagrees with me about dinner etiquette." This time, it should be pretty clear that the pronoun "many" is plural, and so changing the verb to match it makes "Many disagree with me about dinner etiquette."

And finally, what do we do when one subject is singular and another plural, as in "The cat and the dogs is hungry"? There are more than one subject here, one cat and multiple dogs. And so it should be "The cat and the dogs are hungry."

That one was obvious, but consider if we said it this way-- "The dogs and the cat is hungry." That almost sounds correct, doesn't it? Still, though, no matter what the order, there are multiple subjects, and so the verb should be plural. "The dogs and the cat are hungry."

Now I know this is a lot to go through, but don't worry. Pay attention and allow yourself the reading and writing time it takes to practice these and other grammatical rules, and you'll be fine.

What did we learn today? We learned about subject verb agreement, from what it means to how it works in basic and special circumstances. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

Terms to Know

Within a sentence, the subject is the noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that represents the focus of a clause and, if the clause contains a verb, the subject is the agent that does the verb action.


A word that defines actions or indicates a state of being.