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Subject-Verb Agreement

Just like nouns and pronouns, subjects and verbs need to agree. Once, again, the basic rule is that singular subjects take singular verbs.

Wrong: The room are cold today.

Right: The room is cold today.

Wrong: Scientists makes new discoveries every day.

Right: Scientists make new discoveries every day.

Now, let’s try some trickier situations.

What Is the Subject?

Is this sentence right or wrong?

Example: The basket of teas are full.

It’s wrong! Why? Because the subject is “basket”, which is a singular noun, and “are” is a plural verb. Thinking that “tea” is the subject is a common mistake, but just remember this rule: the subject comes before a phrase that starts with “of”.

Example: The games of the child were lively. (Or: The child’s games were lively.)

Example: The bag of candies is all gone.

Adding And

When you join two nouns with the conjunction “and”, you make a plural subject.

Wrong: Alfred and Susan drinks tea copiously.

Right: Alfred and Susan drink tea copiously.

Be careful of compound nouns, like “bed and breakfast”, that refer to one thing even though they contain the word “and”.

Wrong: The bed and breakfast are quaint.

Right: The bed and breakfast is quaint.

What to Do with Or and Nor

Even though they’re also conjunctions, “or”, “either/or”, and “neither/nor” do not make  plural subjects.

Wrong: Pie or cake are on sale this week.

Right: Pie or cake is on sale this week.

If your or/nor sentence has a plural and a singular subject, the verb agrees with the subject closest to it.

Wrong: Neither the Lees nor Cassius are coming skating.

Right: Neither the Lees nor Cassius is coming skating.

Right: Neither Cassius nor the Lees are coming skating.

The last sentence sounds more colloquial than the second sentence, so it is probably best to use the singular subject, plural subject, plural verb order when you write these types of sentences.

Don’t Get Distracted by Words in the Middle

Sometimes, you might have a long string of modifiers (but hopefully not too long!) between your subject and your verb. Don’t lose track of what your subject is!

Wrong: The man that has nine cats are crazy.

Right: The man that has nine cats is crazy.

Wrong: The security guard, as well as the robbers, are having an adventurous night.

Right: The security guard, as well as the robbers, is having an adventurous night.

Indefinite Pronouns

The words anybody, anyone, each, each one, either, everybody, everyone, neither, nobody, no one, somebody, and someone are all singular.

Wrong: Nobody are cooler than you.

Right: Nobody is cooler than you.

Wrong: Each one are important to the team.

Right: Each one is important to the team.

What About None?

None can mean “not one”, in which case it is singular, or “not any”, in which case it is plural.

You have to go with your gut about which meaning is correct in your sentence, but don’t worry too much — chances are that you’ll be right either way.

Right: None of you cook as well as my grandmother does.

Right: None of you cooks as well as my grandmother does.

Nouns That Try to Fool You

A collective noun refers to a group of things, but it is singular.

Wrong: My family are coming for dinner.

Right: My family is coming for dinner.

Other nouns seem singular, but are really plural.

Wrong: The scissors slips out of my hand.

Right: The scissors slip out of my hand.

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