In English, subjects and verbs have to match with regards to the number they represent; this is known as subject verb agreement.
For example, if we have a singular subject then we also need a singular verb.
He sometimes drinks coffee in the morning.
On the other hand, if we have a plural subject then we will need a plural verb.
They sometimes drink coffee in the morning.
This is the basic rule, however there are some more rules we need to learn in order to get things right in each situation.
Parentheses should not be included in the subject.
James (and his wife) is going on holiday.
Words / phrases such as “as well as”, “along with” etc are not a part of the subject.
James, as well as his wife, is going on holiday.
When we join two singular subjects with “and” then we treat them as a plural.
Jane and John are going to be visiting me this evening.
When we join two subjects with “or” / “nor” then the verb has to agree with the subject closest to it.
Jane or John is going to be visiting me this evening.
Jane or my other friends are going to be visiting me this evening.
Sometimes, our subjects will come after the verb. In these cases the subjects still need to agree with the verbs.
There are twenty books here.
There is one computer here.
With modal verbs, we don’t change the verb to match the subject and it stays the same for all singular and plural subjects.
He can sing.
They can sing.
When we use a possessive ‘s’ then the subject is the thing being possessed.
Jane’s flowers are nice.
However, when we use “of“, the subject is the word / phrase before “of“.
This bouquet of flowers is nice.
Depending on the situation, a collective noun (crowd, jury, team etc) could either be treated as singular or plural.
The team has too many players. (emphasis on the team being a single unit)
The team have worked really hard. (emphasis on the team being a group of individuals)
Needs / Wants / Likes
When we use a phrase such as “need/s to [verb]” then it is the “need” / “want” / “like” that needs to agree with the subject. The verb itself always stays the same, regardless of the subject.
He needs to go to the party.
I want to run to town.
It likes to eat food.
Subject Verb Agreement Quiz
Now see what you can remember with this quiz!
Subject Verb Agreement Exercises
Say one or two sentences about…
- what your friend does.
- what you and your friends do (together).
- what you do (alone).
- what you did with your friends the last time you met.
- what you will do next week.
Answer the questions with full sentences.
- Do you drink coffee?
- Do any of your friends drink coffee? Who?
- Do you drink coffee with your friends?
- Do your friends ever drink coffee without you?
- Who drinks the most coffee (that you know)?
Fill in the gaps using a copula (is / are / am).
- Some of my friends … architects.
- My sister … an engineer.
- They … going to see a movie.
- We … not talking to each other.
- He … a football player.
- Who … they talking to?
- … she going to the party?
- … we going to the restaurant?
- When … he going to go?
- They … beautiful flowers.