Subject-verb agreement in English

January 2020: Examples of common pitfalls

2020.01.15 | CKR/LVS

Photo: Jon Tyson, Unsplash

Below, you will find examples of some of the most common subject-verb agreement pitfalls.

In particular, ‘of’ phrases give rise to confusion. Here, one must recognise that the subject of the sentence is the noun preceding ‘of’ and thus the sentence element that the verb must agree with:

  • The collection of stamps is his prize possession.

Two singular nouns connected by ‘and’ take the plural form:

  • Bennie and Suzy always go out for a drink on weekdays.

However, if two nouns are connected by ‘along with’ or ‘as well as’, the following noun or nouns are not part of the subject. Therefore, the verb should only agree with the noun preceding ‘along with’ or ‘as well as’:

  • The mother dog, as well as her puppies, is the cutest thing you’ll ever see.

In cases where two nouns are connected by ‘or’, ‘either/or’ or ‘neither/nor’, the verb must agree with the noun closest to it:

  • Neither the dog nor its owner is fond of rainy weather.
  • Neither he nor his cousins play scrabble.

With words that indicate an amount or a portion – ‘a lot’, ‘a majority’, ‘a number of’, ‘some’ – the rule is that the verb is either singular or plural depending on the number of the noun following ‘of’:

  • A lot of puppies are cute.
  • Some of the lawn is yellow.

When the present participle form of a verb is the subject of a sentence, the verb must take the singular:

  • Dancing in the streets is always funny.
  • Mixing the two substances causes a massive explosion.

With some nouns (collective nouns), it is up to the writer’s own discretion to decide whether the noun acts as a unity or as a collection of individuals:

  • The company is headquartered in Brande.
  • The team go out for lunch each day at 11:50.

Finally, there are the uncountable nouns, including ‘furniture’, ‘news’, ‘information’. These always require the verb to take the singular form:

  • The furniture is shabby chic.

These were examples of the pitfalls of subject-verb agreement in English. If you feel like testing your new-found skills, you can take a quiz here.  

Staff, Language Services