Subject Verb Agreement

Subject Verb Agreement

The subject (the noun that does the action) and verb (the action) of a sentence must agree in number. All of these examples will focus on the present tense because the past and future forms don't change to agree with the subject. For example, in the past to eat becomes: I ate, you ate, he/she/it/one ate, they ate. In the future, to eat becomes: I will eat, you will eat, he/she/it/one will eat, they will eat. The major exception is the verb to be which has the following forms in the past: I was, we were, you were, he/she/it/one was, they were. Most verbs are regular; when the subject is 3rd person singular, the verb ends with an -s and all other forms are identical. However, some verbs are irregular and follow other patterns. For example:

Subject to be (irregular) to have (regular) to eat (regular)
1st person singular I am I have I eat
1st person plural we are we have we eat
2nd person singular/plural you are you have you eat
3rd person singular he/she/it/one is he/she/it/one has he/she/it/one eats
3rd person plural they are they have they eat

Subjects can be a pronoun (as shown above) or any noun that agrees:

  • I am a first-year student at UC Davis.
  • Airplaneis a very normal word today.
  • Today, we think that bicycles are for kids. 
  • For me, the clock, calculator, and music are essential for continuing my life.

Click each drop-down arrow to learn more about some types of subjects that may be more difficult to pair with verbs

Indefinite/Quantifier subjects
  • Indefinite/quantifier subjects can be singular or plural, and the verb will agree with these subjects in number. Some indefinite subjects are pronouns (they replace the noun) and some are determiners (they precede the noun). When your indefinite subject is a determiner, the noun will agree with the determiner in number and so will the verb. What follows is a chart listing some common indefinite pronouns and determiners.
Singular Plural Singular OR Plural
each many all
every, everybody, everything few any
any, anyone, anybody, anything fewer none
something, somebody, someone both most
no one, nobody, nothing others some
either, neither several more
much/little/less   such

Here is an illustration with most:

  • ExampleThe most important thing is to be thankful for everything.
  • ExampleMost animals, such as chimps, do not possess this ability.
  • Example: Even though Russia and its current president, Vladimir Putin, are trying not to lose Ukraine, most suggest that there will be signs of unease if this happens.
Compound subjects
  • When a subject is more than one noun joined with and, use a plural verb. When the nouns are joined with or, use a singular verb. When using neither/nor or either/or, use a verb that agrees with the noun closest to the verb:
    • Example: He and Smith are planning to record their climbing experience by filming videos.
    • Example: Neither the Salvadorian, Cuban, nor Guatemalan culture is the same as my culture.
    • Example: If a young adult has seven drinks per week to improve his/her health, there is a chance that the person will become an alcoholic if he or she is still physically developing.
Non-count subjects
  • When a subject is a non-count noun (meaning it cannot be made plural), use a singular verb:
    • Example: The evidence for this is the reference list at the end of the reading.
    • Example: Continuous research is being done to improve the set process as well as understand genes.
Collective subjects
  • When a subject is a collective noun (meaning you are using it to refer to the group as a whole, rather than each individual), use a singular verb:
    • Example: Language is one of the most important factors that I will consider because languages are related closely to reading, writing, speaking and listening in our daily lives. (The first use of language is treated as a singular concept/factor. The second use of languages emphasizes the plural nature of multiple languages.)
    • Example: The majority of professors teaching other languages such as Spanish, French, German or Chinese are not native speakers themselves or they have forgotten or lost their accent over the years due to a lack of practice. (With the phrases the/a majority ofthe/a minority ofthe/a number of and a lot of, whether the verb is singular or plural depends on the nature of the noun that follows the phrase: with a plural noun, use a plural verb; with a singular noun, use a singular verb.)
Infinitive and gerund subjects
  • When you have an infinitive or a gerund as the subject, use a singular verb:
    • Example: To be healthy enough to go to school is what parents want.
    • Example: Rock climbing is a sport that no one is good at when one first starts.
Long-distance subjects
  • When you have a subject that’s long, make sure your verb agrees with the actual subject of the sentence:
    • Example: Children of parents that do not talk to them about sex learn from the media and act upon what the media has shown them.
    • Example: One of the main reasons why college students study abroad is to learn a new language and grow academically.
Measurement expressions as subjects
  • When your subject is a unit of time, money, measurement or weight, use a singular verb, even if the noun looks plural:
    • Example51 miles is a long distance to drive.
    • Example5,000 dollars is expensive for a new battery since the common price for a 2008 Ford Escape is 8,000 dollars.