Subject Verb Agreement Rules

A verb must agree with its subject in number and person. A singular subject requires a singular form of the verb, while a plural subject requires a plural form of the verb.

1. Two or more singular subjects joined by ‘and’, take a plural verb:

  • Harry and his brother are identical twins.
  • Atul and Amit were present.
  • He and I are great friends.

There are two exceptions to this rule:
(a) When two singular subjects refer to the same person or thing, the verb is in the singular:

  • My friend and guide has come. (Here ‘friend’ and ‘guide’ refer to the same person.)
  • The poet and statesman is dead. (Here ‘poet’ and ‘statesman’ refer to the same person.)

Note: If the Article is used only once, the two nouns refer to the same person, and the verb is in the singular. But if the Article is mentioned twice then two distinct persons are intended and, therefore, the verb in this case must be in the plural; as, The poet and the statesman are dead.
(b) When two subjects represent one idea, the verb is in the singular:

  • Rice and curry is my favorite dish.
  • Time and tide waits for none.

2. If two singular nouns joined by ‘and’ are preceded by ‘each’ or ‘every’, the verb is in the singular:

  • Every man and woman works here for the good of the institution.
  • Each boy and girl makes a separate report.

3. When two or more singular subjects are connected by ‘or, but, neither nor, either or’, a singular verb form is required.

  • John or Tapan is to be elected president.
  • Neither Rita nor Reena has a chance.
  • Not only his wife, but even his mother finds him selfish.

Note: (i) When the subjects connected by ‘or’, ‘nor’ are of different numbers, the verb should be plural and the plural subject should be placed near the verb.

  • Neither James nor his lawyers were there.
  • Jack or his brothers are to be blamed.

(ii) When the subjects joined by ‘or, nor’ are of different persons, the verb agrees with the one nearest to it:

  • Either you or he is correct.
  • Neither my friend nor I am sorry.

4. Mathematical computation may take either a singular or a plural verb:

  • Two times three is six.
  • Four and four are eight.

5. A singular subject which is followed immediately by ‘as well as, in addition to, including, no less than, with, together with’, or a similar construction, requires a singular verb:

  • The husband as well as the wife needs advice.
  • The coach, together with his assistants, was praised.
  • The store, in addition to the farm, was sold.
  • The king, with all his sons, was imprisoned.

6. A singular subject followed by a plural modifier requires a singular verb:

  • The attitude of these men is definitely hostile.
  • One of the girls looks sick.
  • A list of the names of successful candidates is available.

7. Indefinite pronouns like ‘anybody, anyone, each, either, everybody, neither, nobody, no one, somebody and many generally require a singular verb:

  • Each of them has a scholarship.
  • Nobody denies the fact.
  • Anybody who cheats is dishonest.

8. When the subject is a relative pronoun, the verb agrees with the antecedent of that pronoun:

  • He is one of the men who act as advisers.
  • This is one of those problems which have many solutions.

9. A collective noun takes a singular verb when the class it names is considered as a unit. And a plural verb, when the members of the class are considered individually:

The jury is finally complete.The jury were divided in their opinion.
The family holds an annual gathering.The family have never been able to agree on a single issue.

10. Plural numbers take a singular verb when they are used in a phrase to indicate a sum or a unit:

  • Ten years is too long to wait.
  • Ten per cent is good interest.
  • Five lakhs of rupees is a huge sum.
  • Forty hours is the regular work week.

11. Certain nouns which are plural in form but singular in meaning generally take a singular verb.
The most common of these are dynamics, economics, electronics, ethics, news, physics, statistics, linguistics etc.

  • No news is good news.
  • Statistics is a difficult subject.

12. Errors due to Proximity: There is an erroneous tendency among students to make the verb agree with a noun near it, rather than make it agree with its proper subject.

  • The quality of the shoes is not upto the mark.

The subject of the verb is quality, and not the shoes. Hence, the correct verb should be is and not are.)

  • Neither of the applicants is fully qualified.
  • The cost of essential commodities has risen considerably.
  • Not only his clothes but also his appearance was shabby.

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