Subject verb agreement rules

There are a number of rules of subject/verb agreement that must be followed. Here are the top ten:

  1. The main rule is that subjects and verbs must agree in number.

The cat miaows when she is hungry

The cats miaow when they are hungry

  1. Words that come between the subject and the verb make no difference to rule number one.

The cat miaows, every morning without fail, when she is hungry.

  1. Prepositional phrases between the subject and verb usually don’t affect agreement

The colours of her bouquet are beautiful (note – the verb is plural as it’s referring to the colours, not the bouquet).

  1. When sentences start with “there” or “here”, the subject will always be placed after the verb, so take care to identify the subject correctly.

There is a problem with your transaction.

Here are the shoes you were looking for.

  1. Subjects don’t always come before verbs in questions. Take care to correctly identify the subject before deciding which verb form is the right one.

Does Jenny usually go to work on Saturdays?

Where are the papers I left on the table last night?

  1. If two singular subjects are joined by “and”, they usually require a plural verb form.

The boy and the girl are running around the playground.

The cow and the sheep sleep together in the barn.

  1. The verb is singular if the two subjects separated by “and” refer to the same person or thing.

Spaghetti and meatballs is my father’s favourite meal.

  1. If one of the words “each”, “every” or “no” comes before the subject, the verb is singular.

No running or shouting is permitted in the corridors.

Each pupil and teacher is required to enter by the main doors.

  1. If the subjects are both singular and are connected by “or”, “nor”, “neither/nor”, “either/or” and “not only/but also”, the verb is singular.

Either Jenny or Suzanne has the tickets.

Neither Jenny nor Suzanne has the tickets.

Jenny not only has the tickets, but Suzanne also has the drinks.

  1. The only time when the object of the preposition affects the decision of the plural or singular verb forms is when noun or pronoun subjects like “none”, “some”, “half”, “all”, “more” etc are followed by a prepositional phrase.

In the following examples, the object of the preposition determines the form of the verb:

All of the chicken is gone.

All of the chickens are gone.

Half of the cake has been eaten.

Half of the cakes have been eaten.

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