Table of Contents
What is subject-verb agreement?
In a sentence, the form of verb has to match the subject. This matching or agreement is related to number (singular or plural) and person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd).
In the following sentence, the subject movie is 3rd person singular, so we add s to the verb in the present simple.
- The movie starts at 10 pm.
While in this sentence, the subject movies is 3rd person plural, so we use the verb without s.
- Movies at this cinema usually start at 11 pm.
Rules of subject-verb agreement
In present simple tense
– Add s to the present simple tense verb if the subject is 3rd person singular (he, she, it) in affirmative sentences.
- My father likes to watch football matches on TV at home.
- We like to watch football matches on TV at home.
– Make negative sentences and questions with does if the subject is 3rd person singular (he, she, it).
- Hala doesn’t walk to work.
- Does your teacher discuss exam results with you?
– Make negative sentences and questions with do if the subject is 1st person singular and plural (I and we), 2nd person singular and plural (you), 3rd person plural (they).
- They don’t walk to work.
- Do your teachers discuss exam results with you?
In past simple tense
Past simple tense verbs have the same form with all persons. The auxiliary verb did is used to make negative sentences and questions with all persons.
- We heard strange sound coming from the woods.
- She heard strange sound coming from the woods.
- I didn’t fix the errors in my writing.
- Where did they spend the vacation?
The verb be has different forms and it has to agree with the subject.
– Use am in the present simple and in the present continuous if the subject is 1st person singular (I).
- I am excited to meet my new roommate.
- I am seeing my friends tonight.
– Use is if the subject is 3rd person singular (he, she, it).
- He is a good football player.
- This sofa is very comfortable.
- She is waving to her son.
– Use are if the subject is 1st person singular and plural (we), 2nd person singular and plural (you), 3rd person plural (they).
- We are glad to participate in this conference.
- They are good football players.
- We are having dinner right now.
- You are talking too fast!
– In the past, use was if the subject is 1st person singular (I) and 3rd person singular (he, she, it).
- I was ready on time.
- Was she washing the dishes?
- Your sister was the most helpful in the group.
- The article wasn’t easy to read.
– Use were if the subject is 1st person plural (we), 2nd person singular and plural (you), and 3rd person plural (they).
- We were there on time.
- They were packing their bags when I visited them.
- You were talking too fast.
In present perfect tense:
– In the present perfect tense, use have if the subject is 1st person singular and plural (I and we), 2nd person singular and plural (you), 3rd person plural (they).
- I have explained my viewpoint.
- We have planned for the party.
- Have you been to New York recently?
– Use has in if the subject is 3rd person singular (he, she, it).
- She has replied to all the emails.
- He hasn’t bought new clothes for some time.
In past perfect tense
– In the past perfect tense, use the auxiliary verb had with all persons.
- I had submitted the application before I received the new job offer.
- She had slept enough.
- They had told us the details of the accident.
Modals (will, would, can, could, may, might, shall, should, must) have the same form with all persons.
Have to and has to follow the same rules of have/has in the present perfect above.
- I will publish my new book soon.
- She can speak German and Spanish.
- They might join us.
- I have to remain clam.
- We have to wear face masks in gatherings.
- He has to report to work six days a week.
There is / There are / There was / There were
The structure that has there + be is called “expletive.” It does not have a meaning on its own. It introduces the idea that something is in a particular place. The form of the sentence is:
There + be (is, are, was, were, has/have/had been) + subject + place.
(The expression of place can be deleted if it is understood from the context.)
The subject-verb agreement in this structure is between the verb be and the subject following it: with singular nouns use is / was / has been, and with plural subjects use are / were / have been.
- There is / was / has been one bird in the cage. (singular subject)
- There are / were / have been two birds in the cage. (plural subject)
Quantifiers are used to modify nouns. Some expressions of quantity are used with count nouns only, some are used with noncount nouns only, while a few of these expressions can be used with both.
Find out more about quantifiers and how we use them with count and noncount nouns here.
The verb is determined by the noun following the quantifier. Singular verbs are used with singular and noncount nouns, while plural verbs are used with plural nouns
- A lot of knowledge is obtained from life experience.
- A lot of the students in this class come from other cities.
- Some of the discussion was informative. (singular noun after some of)
- Some of the discussions were informative. (plural noun after some of)
A collective noun is a noun that denotes a group of members. Collective nouns can take plural verbs or singular verbs depending on the speaker’s view of the noun. In other words, if you look at the noun as a single impersonal unit, use a singular verb.
- The staff at our company is large. (singular verb)
On the other hand, if you see it a collection of individuals, use a plural verb.
- The staff are discussing their complaints with the manager. (plural verb)
Read more about collective nouns here.
With indefinite pronouns, singular verbs are used. Indefinite pronouns include:
everyone, someone, anyone, no one
everybody, somebody, anybody, nobody
everything, something, anything, nothing
- Everyone here is ready to contribute to your project.
- Everything is working well here!
- No one was at home when we arrived.
- Someone is calling you! Can’t you hear that?
- If anyone asks about me, please send me a message.
- Something is wrong with this machine.
A. Proper nouns that end in s:
Some proper nouns of organization, countries, stores, etc. end in s but are considered singular and take singular verbs.
- The United Nations is holding an urgent meeting tonight.
- The Philippines is a beautiful country.
- The United States is a big country.
B. Names of fields of study and school subjects that end in s:
These nouns are considered singular nouns.
- Mathematics is a challenging subject.
- Physics is hard for many students.
- Study skills was an easy course for her.
C. Names of illnesses that end in s:
Some names of illnesses, such as diabetes, measles, pumps, rabies, rickets, shingles, end in s but are considered singular nouns.
- Diabetes has largely spread among the population.
- Measles causes skin rash.
- Mumps causes puffy cheeks, and tender, swollen jaws.
D. Some expressions of time, money, and distance:
These are usually followed by singular verbs to link to the duration, amount, or distance rather than the plural number.
- Two hours is too long for this test.
- Ten dinars is a good price for this purse.
- Four hundred meters is not too far to walk.
E. The word news is always singular.
- The news wasn’t very interesting to me!
F. The words people, police, cattle are always plural.
- The people we met in the gallery were very nice.
- The police have caught the thief.
- Cattle are domestic animals.