Subject-verb Agreement
Lesson 4

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!

All, most, some, none: singular verb

The words all, most, some, and none can take a singular or a plural verb, depending on the context in which they are used in the sentence.

If these words refer to something singular in the sentence, a singular verb is required.

 Most of the dessert has been eaten.

Most refers to dessert. Since dessert is singular, most requires a singular verb.

 None of the pie was eaten.

All, most, some, none: plural verb

If these words refer to something plural in the sentence, a plural verb is required.

 Most of the desserts have been eaten.

Most refers to desserts. Since desserts is plural, most requires a plural verb.

 None of the pies were eaten.

Each, every

Use the singular verb when the subject is preceded by every, even though the subject has more than one noun.

 Each brook, stream, and river is dry because of the drought.

Inverted sentence

An inverted sentence is one in which the subject is placed after the verb. To determine the subject, you need to mentally or physically change the structure of the sentence so that the subject is placed in its natural order, that is, before the verb.

 There were many people at the performance last night.

This is an inverted sentence because the subject does not come before the verb. You need to convert it to its natural form to assist in determining the subject, so you can make the verb agree with it.

The following sentence is in its natural order.

 Many people were there at the performance last night.

Now, when you ask the question Who was or were at the performance last night?, you get the answer people. Since the subject people is plural, you need a plural verb were.

 A combination of scorching weather, drought and tinder-dry bush has created prime conditions for brush fires.

Because any word that is part of a prepositional phrase can never be the subject, we can eliminate the prepositional phrases of scorching weather, drought and tinder-dry bush and for brush fires from the sentence to help us find the subject.

Now we are left with A combination has created prime conditions.

When you ask the question What has created prime conditions?, you get the answer combination. Since the subject combination is singular, a singular verb has is required.

 In our business when there’s problems, we try to resolve them in a fair and honest way.

To find the subject, let us remove the prepositional phrases in our business and in a fair and honest way, since we know that any word in a prepositional phrase cannot be the subject.

Now we are left with When there’s problems, we try to resolve them.

We also know that this is an inverted sentence because there, an adverb, can never be the subject.

So we must write the sentence in its natural order.

 When problems is there, we try to resolve them.

Now when we ask the question What is or are there?, we get the answer problems. Because the subject problems is plural, we need a plural verb are.

 In our business when there are problems, we try to resolve them in a fair and honest way.

Subjunctive mood

The subjunctive mood of a verb indicates that the condition is contrary to fact.

 If I were the CEO of this company, I'd make many changes.

The action is conditional on my being CEO of the company, which I am not.

 I wish I were ten years younger so that I could apply for the job.

There is no way that I can be ten years younger than I am, so the subjunctive mood is required.

 If she were the boy's mother, she would discipline him.

She is not the boy's mother; hence, the subjunctive mood must be used.

Practice

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

  1. All of the iPods (was, were) sold by the time he arrived at the store.
  2. Each flower, bush, and shrub (was, were) infected by the insects.
  3. Here (is, are) a list of the people who will attend the party.
  4. Most of the cake (was, were) eaten by the time she was ready for dessert.
  5. There (is, are) many reasons not to attend the ball game.

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