ESL Writing: What Is Subject Verb Agreement

By | July 14, 2016

Subject Verb Agreement

This feature of English is much easier than it is in other languages. A person learning Spanish or Russian or German or just about any other language has to learn to change the form of the verb according the “person” of the verb. That means that the verb changes (is pronounced and spelled differently) according to whether the writer describes:

* what he or she is doing (first person),

* what the person that is being spoken to is doing (second person),

* or whether the actions of some other person are being described (third person).

Let’s take a closer look at this. The idea of subject verb agreement is easy. The subject and verb must agree in number. This means that both must be singular (one person or thing), or both must be plural (more than one person or thing).

This is usually not a problem in English, except in the third person singular of the present tense, where a problems occurs. We have to add an “s” or “es” at the end of the verb when the subject or the being (animal or thing) that is performing the action is a noun or pronoun, he, she, it. If you leave off the letter “s” (he talk funny) you will be talking or writing incorrectly, in a dialect that uneducated people use.

Notice the difference between singular and plural forms in the following examples: At the same time onserve the corresponding pronoun in parentheses for each use of the verb

Singular

The child talks. (He or she talks.)

The man works. (He works.)

Plural

The children talk. (They talk.)

The men work. (They work.)

The following table will help you review the persons of the verb

Singular

First Person – The person who is the subject of the sentence – I eat fish.

Second Person – The person spoken to by the subject of the sentence – You (one person) eat fish.

Third Person – The person or thing spoken about by the subject of the sentence

He eats fish. She eats fish. The cat eats fish.

Plural

First Person – The persons who are the subject of the sentence – We eat fish.

Second Person – The persons spoken to by the subject of the sentence. – You (several persons) eat fish

Third Person – The persons or things spoken about by the subject of the sentence – They eat fish.

You can see that the only change in the verb in English is in the third person singular of the verb. See what it is? The verb ends with the letter “s”, he eats. All the other forms of the verb are the same, the simple verb with no special ending, I eat, you eat, we eat, they eat, all are the same word eat with no changes like in other languages.

It is easy enough to write this correctly in simple sentences like those of the table. It gets a little more difficult when the sentences are more complicated. In these cases, many writers make mistakes with the agreement between the subject and the verb.

Notice the difference between the ways that English forms the words in the third person singular and plural of the verb by looking at the following examples:

In the Singular of a positive statement:The little boy runs. (He runs.)

In the Plural of a positive statement:The little boys run. (They run.)

In the Singular of a negative statement: John doesn’t speak Spanish. (He does not speak.)

In the Plural of a negative statement:The little boys don’t run. (They do not run.)

In the Singular of a positive question:Does the dog swim? (It does swim.)

In the Plural of a positive question:Do the dogs swim? (They do swim.)

In the Singular of a negative question:Doesn’t the girl sing? (She does not sing.)

In the Plural of a negative question: Don’t the girls sing? (They do not sing.)

Doesn’t is a contraction (shortened form) of does not and should be used only with a singular subject.

Don’t is a contraction of do not and should be used only with a plural subject

In order to make your subject and verb agree in your writing, you need to know what is the subject of your sentence. (You will find more inSubject in another part of this article.) Here are some helpful hints that will help you to figure out where your subject is and where it is not.

Most of the time the verb will agree with the first noun to the left of the verb:

The mother decides what to cook for supper.

Subject: mother, Verb: decides

The red leaves were beautiful.

Subject: leaves, Verb: were

The committee members will vote on the resolution.

Subject: members, Verb: will vote

The father picks the color of the car.

Subject: father; Verb: picks

The senators were satisfied with the legal arguments.

Subject: senators; Verb: were

NOTE: Sometimes, a sentence has the subject after the verb instead of before it. You will find this in poetry more than in everyday writing. Don’t write like this until you are very expert!

Too fast go by the days of our life.

Subject: days, Verb: go by

Subjects joined by “and” are plural.

The runner and the trainer were professionals.

Subject: the runner and the trainer Verb: were

However, there are a few cases in which learners of English have trouble writing the correct subject verb agreement.

When indefinite pronouns are the subject.

Words like someone, somebody, each, either one, neither, none, everyone, or anyone, something, anything, nothing are the subject. These words are singular even if sometimes they are referring to more than one person. Look at these examples.

Anyone who wants to pursue higher education has to pass entrance exams.

Subject: anyone, Verbs: wants, has

Everyone on the committee is welcome to express his/her ideas.

Subject:everyone, Verb: is

A few more…

Each of these designs is possible to produce.

Everybody likes Mrs. Smith.

Everyone in the group is able to speak.

If anyone doesn’t like it, they can tell the judge.

When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by “or” or “nor”, use a singular verb

.The pencil or the pen is in the drawer.

The whale or the dolphin is a mammal.

However, if a singular subject and a plural subject are joined by “or” or “nor, the verb agrees with the closer subject.

Either the runners or the trainer is at fault.

Subjects: runners, trainer, Verb: is

Either the trainer or the runners are at fault.

Subjects:trainer, runners, Verb: are

Neither the cat nor the dogs eat packaged food.

So don’t forget! When you write sentences like the above, remember that agreement depends on the placement of the subject.

When a collective noun is used

Collective nouns, such as: group, team, committee, class, and family, are words that stand for more than one person but that are considered singular and take a singular verb,

The team wins when it plays.

The board of directors decides what the rules are.

The family is very happy.

My family has never been rich.

When other words describing the subject separate the subject and the verb

If you write any other words between the subject and verb you will have to decide what is the subject to know if you should use a singular or a plural form of the verb.

The members of the cabinet, together with the president, are very concerned.

Subject: the members; Verb: are. Don’t be fooled by the singular word president!

Spinach, like all other vegetables is good to eat.

Subject: spinach: Verb: is. Don’t be fooled by the plural word vegetables!

Sometimes a phrase or a clause beginning with prepositions (words likewith, in after, over, under etc.) or with relative pronouns (like who, whom, which, what) comes between the subject and the verb. Look at the following sentences:

After prepositions:

The cars in the garage is old.

Sounds bad doesn’t it? Why? The subject and the verb don’t agree. What’s the problem? Garage (a singular noun) is right in front of is (a singular verb). But the word garage is not the subject. What is the subject? Cars! More than one? Yes. So the subject is plural and the verb should be plural. The sentence should be: The cars in the garage are old. You have to realize that you are saying The cars are old. The fact that they are in the garage doesn’t change the fact that you are writing that the cars (the subject) are old.

One of the chairs was broken.

Subject: one; Verb: was. Don’t be fooled by the plural word chairs!

The woman with all the children cooks very well.

Subject: woman; Verb: cooks. Don’t be fooled by the plural word children!

After relative pronouns: (see Relative Pronounsin another article of this series.

Do the same analysis on the following sentences that you did on the “cars in the garage” of the previous sentence. Does it sound right? What is the subject? Is it one person or thing or more than one.

When you know which words are the subject and the verb, you will know if you should write the verb in the singular or in the plural. Look at the following sentences with relative pronouns.

The man whom you saw with the other policemen comes from California.

Subject: the man; Verb: comes. Don’t be fooled by the plural word policemen!

My brothers, who are the smartest of all my family, speak Spanish.

Subject: my brothers; Verb: speak. Don’t be fooled by the singular word family!

But remember that the relative pronouns (who, whom, which, and that) are either singular or plural, depending on the words they refer to. They agree in number with their antecedent.

The sales manager is a good researcher who spends a great amount of time surfing the Web for information.

Subject: the sales manager, Verbs: is, spends

Sales managers are good researchers who spend a great amount of time surfing the Web for information.

Subject: sales managers, Verbs: are, spend

Remember this to write correctly. When you review your writing, look at the word just before the verb. That usually is the subject. Decide if it is singular or plural and make the verb agree with it.

In all these cases, once you learn how to find the problem, it will be easy to think of the correct way to express yourself when you check your writing.

Subject Verb Agreement Exercises Answers below

1. Either the physicians in this hospital or the chief administrator (is, are) going to have to make a decision.

2. (Is, Are) my boss or my sisters in the union going to win this grievance?

3. Some of the votes (seem, seems) to have been miscounted.

4. The tornadoes that tear through this county every spring (are, is) more than just a nuisance.

5. Everyone selected to serve on this jury (have, has) to be willing to give up a lot of time.

6. Kara Wolters, together with her teammates, (presents, present) a formidable opponent on the basketball court.

7. He seems to forget that there (are, is) things to be done before he can graduate.

8. There (have, has) to be some people left in that town after yesterday’s flood.

9. Some of the grain (appear, appears) to be contaminated.

10.Three-quarters of the students (is, are ) against the tuition hike.

11.A high percentage of the population (is, are) voting for the new school.

12.A high percentage of the people (was, were) voting for the new school.

Subject Verb Agreement Exercises Answers below

1. Either the physicians in this hospital or the chief administrator (is, are) going to have to make a decision.

2. (Is, Are) my boss or my sisters in the union going to win this grievance?

3. Some of the votes (seem, seems) to have been miscounted.

4. The tornadoes that tear through this county every spring (are, is) more than just a nuisance.

5. Everyone selected to serve on this jury (have, has) to be willing to give up a lot of time.

6. Kara Wolters, together with her teammates, (presents, present) a formidable opponent on the basketball court.

7. He seems to forget that there (are, is) things to be done before he can graduate.

8. There (have, has) to be some people left in that town after yesterday’s flood.

9. Some of the grain (appear, appears) to be contaminated.

10. Three-quarters of the students (is, are ) against the tuition hike.

11. A high percentage of the population (is, are) voting for the new school.

12. A high percentage of the people (was, were) voting for the new school.

Subject Verb Agreement Exercise, Answers

  1. Either the physicians in this hospital or the chief administrator is going to have to make a decision.
  2. Are my boss or my sisters in the union going to win this grievance?
  3. Some of the votes seem to have been miscounted.
  4. The tornadoes that tear through this county every spring are more than just a nuisance.
  5. Everyone selected to serve on this jury has to be willing to give up a lot of time.
  6. Kara Wolters, together with her teammates, present a formidable opponent on the basketball court.
  7. He seems to forget that there are things to be done before he can graduate.
  8. There have to be some people left in that town after yesterday’s flood.
  9. Some of the grain appears to be contaminated.
  10. Three-quarters of the students are against the tuition hike.
  11. A high percentage of the population is voting for the new school.
  12. A high percentage of the people was voting for the new school.

This article is taken from ESL Learners CAN WRITE RIGHT!

Source by Frank Gerace

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