In this post, we’re going to talk about subject-verb agreement, as well as some tricky subject-verb agreement scenarios.

What is Subject-Verb Agreement?

First, what is subject-verb agreement? In short, subject-verb agreement is where singular subjects take singular verbs and plural subjects take plural verbs. Here are two very simple examples:

1. John walks to the store. John is a singular subject, so we need to match it with the singular verb “walks.”
2. Jack and John walk to the store. “Jack and John” is a plural subject, so we need to match it with the plural verb “walk.”

Pretty simple, right? Well, unfortunately, there are some tricky subject-verb agreement scenarios, which we’ll cover in this video.

Tricky Scenario #1: The subject and the verb are separated by several words.

Take a look at the following example:

The room with the flowers (is / are) absolutely beautiful.

Here, if we’re not careful, we might think the subject is “flowers,” which is plural and would match with the verb “are.” However, the actual subject here is “room,” which is the first noun in the subject phrase. “Room” is singular, so it should match with the singular verb “is.” The noun that you should match the verb with should be the first noun in the subject phrase, so make sure you always trace the subject phrase back to the beginning.

Tricky Scenario #2: Collective nouns can be either singular or plural.

Take a look at the following example:

The group of students (is / are) walking to class.

Here, “group” is the subject. “Group” is singular, so it should match with the verb “is.” It can be easy to get confused here because the word “group” looks like it should be plural because a “group” includes more than one thing. There are several other words like “group” that usually take singular verbs, such as “class,” “family,” “committee,” and “staff.”

But unfortunately, it gets even more tricky because sometimes these collective nouns can actually be plural if they’re referring to individuals in the group, such as in the sentence, “The class (is / are) tuning their instruments.” But here’s a trick: if you can add the word “members” after the verb, the verb will be plural. For example, “The class members (is / are) tuning their instruments.”

Tricky Scenario #3: A plural subject joined by and might be separated by a lot of words.

Take a look at the following example:

The old store at the corner of the street that sold delicious muffins and the building at the far end of the university (is / are) going to be renovated next year.

Here, there are two subjects that are joined together by the conjunction “and,” so they should take the plural verb “are.” This example can be tricky because there are so many words that separate the subjects from one another and from the verb.

Tricky Scenario #4: Singular Indefinite Pronouns.

Indefinite pronouns that end in “-one” (such as anyone, everyone, no one, and someone), that end in “-body” (such as everybody, somebody, and nobody), and “-thing” (such as everything, something, and nothing), as well as the word “each” are singular and always take singular verbs. For example, we would write the following:

Everyone (is / are) sitting in his seat.
Nobody (has / have) fallen down.
Each of the animals (is / are) unique.

These indefinite pronouns can be tricky because some of them seem like they should be plural, especially everyone, everybody, everything, and each. Take a look at the first example sentence here—a lot of people will want to write, “Everyone is sitting in their seat,” but this is not proper English. Also, take a look at the third example sentence here—the word “each” is usually followed by something plural (in this case, “of the animals”), but although we’ll probably feel very tempted to give it a plural verb, it needs to take a singular verb.

Tricky Scenario #5: Indefinite Pronouns that Depend on the Context.

The indefinite pronouns all, some, none, either, and neither can be either singular or plural, depending on the context. Take a look at the following examples.

All/Some/None of the cake (has / have) been eaten.
All/Some/None of the pieces (has / have) been eaten.
Neither the cats nor the dog (is / are) here.
Either the cats or the dog (is / are) guilty.
Neither the cat nor the dogs (is / are) here.
Either the cat or the dogs (is / are) here.

For the indefinite pronouns all, some, and none, we need to see if what they are referring to is singular or plural. In our examples here, “cake” is singular and “pieces” is plural. For the indefinite pronouns “either” and “neither,” they will almost always take singular verbs, even though we will be very tempted to give them plural verbs, since they are referring to more than one thing. The only scenario where they take plural verbs is if the second noun is plural.

Tricky Scenario #6: The subject comes after the verb.

Take a look at these examples:

There (is / are) a man in the house.
There (is / are) men in the house.
Over the hills (is / are) an enormous cloud.

In the first example, “man,” which is singular, is the subject, so the verb should be the singular “is.” In the second example, “men,” which is plural, is the subject, so the verb should be the plural “are.” And in the third example, “cloud,” which is singular, is the subject, so the verb should be the singular “is.”

Go Forth with Confidence!

So that’s all we’re going to cover for subject-verb agreement. If you know all of these tricky scenarios, you’ll be able to identify and correct almost every subject-verb agreement error you’ll ever encounter.