Subject-verb Agreement
Lesson 3

Subject-verb agreement

If a verb does not agree with its subject in number, you have the error called subject-verb disagreement. You want to correct the error so that you will have subject-verb agreement!

Correlative conjunctions

Conjunctions that are used in pairs are called correlative conjunctions. The two troublesome ones for subject-verb agreement are either..or and neither..nor.

A singular verb is required after singular subjects joined by or or nor.

 Either Betty or Nancy was the winner of the high school speaking contest.

A plural verb is required after plural subjects joined by or or nor.

 Neither the boys nor the girls were prepared for the competition.

If or or nor joins a plural subject and a singular subject, the verb agrees with the subject closer to the verb.

 Neither the boys nor Sally was prepared for the competition.

Indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns are words like anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, everybody, everyone, everything, neither, nobody, somebody, and someone, which do not refer to a definite person or thing.

Indefinite pronouns require a singular verb.

 Each of the girls on the team was given a trophy.

Relative pronouns

Relative pronouns are who, which, and that. One cannot tell whether the relative pronoun is singular or plural by itself. However, like an ordinary pronoun, it usually has an antecedent (a word to which it refers).

Locate the antecedent for the relative pronoun and make the verb agree with the antecedent in number. If the antecedent is plural, the relative pronoun requires a plural verb.

If the antecedent is singular, the relative pronoun requires a singular verb.

 The police are looking for the witnesses that were at the accident.

The relative pronoun that has the antecedent witnesses. Because witnesses is plural, a plural verb were is required for the relative pronoun that.

Note: When you are writing sentences, use the relative pronoun who to refer to people in a non-restrictive clause, the relative pronoun which to refer to animals or things in a non-restrictive clause, and the relative pronoun that to refer to people, animal, or things in a restrictive clause.

Restrictive and non-restrictive clauses

Restrictive clause is one that is necessary to identify the subject.

This is the man that witnessed the accident.

We need the clause that witnessed the accident to identify which man we are referring to. Therefore, it is a restrictive, or necessary, clause.

Non-restrictive clause is one that is not necessary to identify the subject.

Mr. Wilkins, who lives in our town, is our school principal.

We do not need the clause who lives in our town to identify which man we are referring to, because he is identified by his name. Therefore, it is a non-restrictive, or unnecessary, clause.

Plural in form and plural in idea

There are some words that we think of as singular even though they are plural in form. These words include clothes, scissors, glasses, jeans, and trousers.

These words always require a plural verb.

 His pants are too short for a grown man to wear in public.

Plural in form and singular in idea

Words that are plural in form but singular in idea require a singular verb. The list includes words such as civics, mathematics, measles, news, physics, statistics, and the United States.

These words always require a singular verb.

 Mathematics is not his favorite subject.
Practice

Choose the correct answer for each of the practice sentences below by clicking on the correct answer.

  1. Neither Tom nor the other boys (feel, feels) responsible for the damage to the window.
  2. If everyone at the ball game (buy, buys) a raffle ticket, the team will make a lot of money.
  3. His trousers (is, are) too large for him.
  4. The United States (is, are) an ally of Canada.
  5. This road leads to the mountains that (is, are) used for skiing.

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