SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT Definition of a subject-verb agreement error: English verbs must agree in number with their subjects. If the subject is singular, the verb must be singular (end in s); if the subject is plural (ends in s), the verb must be plural. Failure to match a subject with its verb creates a subject-verb agreement error. Example of a subject-verb agreement error: “In walks three girls in nothing but bathing suits” (taken from John Updike’s short story, “A & P”). In this case, the subject of the sentence is “girls.” Since the subject is plural, the verb must likewise be plural. However, in this case the verb, “walks,” is singular. To eliminate this subject-verb agreement error, we would change the sentence to, “In walk three girls in nothing but bathing suits.” Detection of a subject-verb agreement error: Singular subjects require singular verbs, and plural subjects require plural verbs. Generally this is easy to spot. For example, “the cats are” or “a cat is.” However, note the following complications: Intervening words When words (clauses, phrases, and prepositional phrases) separate the subject from the verb, ignore them or cross them out. Example: A collection of glass animals was arranged on the table. Subjects joined by or/nor The verb agrees with the subject closer to it. Example: Either the students or the professor has confused the exam date. Indefinite pronouns as subjects Most indefinite pronouns are singular. For example, anyone, everyone, somebody, anybody, everybody, and nobody are always singular. Example: Everyone in the group reads music. Relative pronouns (who, whose, whom, which, that) as subjects of clauses: The verb agrees with the pronoun’s antecedent. Example: The locomotive is powered by an engine that delivers 17,900 pounds of thrust. Expletive (There is, There are) at beginning of sentence The verb (is, are) agrees with the true subject. Examples: There is a good reason for the mistake. There are good reasons for the mistake.
512-245-3018 • ASB North, 1st Floor • Monday-Thursday: 10 a.m.-7 p.m./Friday: 12-5 p.m./Sunday: 6-10 p.m. writingcenter.txstate.edu
Correcting subject-verb agreement errors: Once you have detected an error in subject-verb agreement, simply change the subject or the verb. Remember that plural subjects often end with s (cats, dogs) but singular verbs will end with s (“he hits,” “the cat meows”). Subject-verb agreement practice: Spot the errors in the following paragraph. Everyone of the students want to attend the performance starring Mel Gibson. Unfortunately, our teacher, a man whom all the students hates, believe that acting and directing is meaningless. Despite our complaints, this year our troupe of twenty students are performing the wretched Oklahoma! No one at the school and the board want this man to be teaching drama. Nevertheless, he and his inflated ego is still torturing young thespians because his uncle, the head of King Industries, buy the school its football uniforms. There is no other explanation.
Answer Key: Everyone of the students wants to attend the performance starring Mel Gibson. Unfortunately, our teacher, a man whom all the students hate, believes that acting and directing is meaningless. Despite our complaints, this year our troupe of twenty students is performing the wretched Oklahoma! No one at the school and the board want this man to be teaching drama. Nevertheless, he and his inflated ego are still torturing young thespians because his uncle, the head of King Industries, buys the school its football uniforms. There is no other explanation.