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Grammar Lessons – Simple Guide on Subject-Verb Agreement With Examples

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Let’s tackle an essential topic that can improve your English speaking and writing skills: subject-verb agreement. Often overlooked, this rule is the backbone of grammatically correct sentences. Whether you’re just starting out by searching ‘learn English classes near me’ or looking to refine your grammar in this effective communication month, our blog will help you understand the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ behind the subject-verb agreement rules.

What is a Subject-Verb Agreement?

At its core, subject-verb agreement is simple. It means the subject (who or what the sentence is about) and the verb (what the subject is doing) must agree in number. That is, if the subject is singular, the verb must also be singular. If the subject is plural, the verb must be plural, too. Subject-verb agreement is crucial for clarity in your sentences. It helps the reader understand who is doing what and makes your English sound natural and correct.

The Basic Rules of Subject-Verb Agreement

1. Singular subjects need singular verbs; plural subjects need plural verbs.
Singular: The dog barks all night.
Plural: The dogs bark all night.

2. Do not be fooled by words between the subject and verb; they do not affect agreement.
Example: The CEO, along with the managers, is attending the meeting.

3. When the subject of the sentence is composed of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by ‘and,’ use a plural verb.
Example: Tom and Jerry are famous characters.
However, use a singular verb if two nouns refer to the same person or thing or are considered a single unit.
Example: Peanut butter and jelly is my favourite snack.

4. With words that indicate portions—such as a lot, a majority, some, all—rule 1 given above still applies. Use a singular verb if the noun following it is singular. If it’s plural, use a plural verb.
Example: A lot of the pie has disappeared.
Example: A lot of the cookies have disappeared.

6. In sentences starting with “there” or “here,” the verb agrees with the subject that follows it.
Example: There are four hurdles to complete.
Example: Here is the best part of the movie.

7. Use a singular verb with sums of money or periods of time.
Example: Ten dollars is a high price to pay.
Example: Five years is the maximum sentence.

8. With Indefinite Pronouns:
Singular indefinite pronouns include anyone, everyone, someone, no one, nobody, each, either, neither, one, etc., and they take singular verbs.
Example: Everyone loves the new movie.
Plural indefinite pronouns include both, few, many, others, several, and they take plural verbs.
Example: Few know the truth.
Some indefinite pronouns can be singular or plural, depending on the context (all, any, more, most, some).
Example: All of the cake is gone. (singular)
Example: All of the cookies are gone. (plural)

9. When subjects are joined by ‘or’ or ‘nor,’ the verb should agree with the part of the subject closest to the verb.
Example: Either the teacher or the students are responsible.
Example: Neither the students nor the teacher is responsible.

10. When subjects are preceded by ‘each’ or ‘every,’ the verb is singular.
Example: Each student has a unique talent.
Example: Every book and magazine is on sale.

11. Gerunds (verbs ending in -ing that function as nouns) and infinitives (to + verb) are singular and take singular verbs.
Example: Swimming is fun.
Example: To read is to explore new worlds.

Special Cases and Exceptions

English wouldn’t be English without its exceptions, right? Here are a few special cases where the usual rules of subject-verb agreement don’t apply.
1. Collective nouns (e.g., team, committee, family, group) can take either singular or plural verbs depending on whether the group acts as a single unit or as individuals.
Example: The team is winning. (acting as a single unit)
Example: The team are arguing among themselves. (acting as individuals)

2. Titles of books, movies, novels, and other similar works are treated as singular and take a singular verb.
Example: The Burbs is a movie starring Tom Hanks.
Example: The Avengers is an action-packed movie.

3. Expressions like ‘a number of’ usually take a plural verb, while ‘the number of’ takes a singular verb.
Example: A number of applicants are in the lobby.
Example: The number of applicants is fifty.

4. Some nouns are plural in form but singular in meaning and take singular verbs (e.g., news, mathematics, physics, politics, economics).
Example: The news is on at 6 p.m.
Example: Mathematics is challenging for many students.

5. Units of measurement or periods of time are usually treated as singular and take singular verbs.
Example: Five kilometres is a long distance to run.
Example: Twenty dollars is the cost of the ticket.

The best way to master subject-verb agreement is to read and write a lot. Pay attention to the verbs and their subjects while reading. Writing practice sentences and having someone check them can also be incredibly helpful. Remember, practice is key to mastering any aspect of a language, so keep at it, and you’ll be impressing your English teacher and everyone with your perfect language skills in no time!

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