By Chris Cherry
Subject–verb agreement sounds like something that’s a lot more difficult to accomplish than it really is. The idea behind it is incredibly simple: if the subject of a sentence is singular (one thing), the verb should be singular, too. If the subject is plural (multiple things), the verb also should be plural.
Singular: The game is hard. Plural: The games are hard.
That’s simple enough. However, there are a lot of cases where the agreement may not be so obvious. For example, take the sentence, “My box of chocolates is not for sharing.” You might see the word chocolates and decide that the word is should be are. But you’d be wrong. The subject is the word box, which is singular. Here are some other situations where subject-verb agreement is tricky:
- In sentences starting with here or there, the subject actually comes after the verb. The same goes for questions that begin with who, what, when, where, why, and how.
There are monsters in the cave.
When does the doctor arrive?
- When the subject has two singular nouns linked by and, then the verb should be plural. However, if the two nouns are linked with something like along with or as well as, then ignore the verb that follows those phrases. It isn’t actually part of the subject.
Manny and Carla have a free hour to study.
Manny, along with Carla, has a free hour to study.
- If the subject has two nouns that are linked by or or nor, then the verb agrees with the noun that is closest to it.
Either Sophie or the Culver twins have the most time to study.
Neither the Culver twins nor Sophie has much time to study.
- When dealing with portions of something, such as a third of, some of, or all of, the verb agrees with the noun following the word
One tenth of birds are flightless.
Half of the cake is chocolate.
- The words each, everyone, everybody, no one, nobody, and someone are always singular. Words that refer to groups of people or things as a single unit are also singular. This includes words like family, team, and herd.
The family is late.
Everyone is angry about it.
Remember: When in doubt, look at the subject. Does it seem like it’s a single thing? Then the verb is singular. Is it multiple things? Then it’s plural. Is it multiple things acting as a unit? Then it’s singular. You’ve got this!