Common Errors With Subject-Verb Agreement

May 28, 2020 | Uncategorized

Every sentence has a subject and a verb. The subject and the verb must make logical sense together. In other words, they must agree in number with each other.

Below is the list of grammar points regarding subject-verb agreement that have perplexed learners of English (myself included).

    1. The number of vs. A number of
      • The number of vehicles on the road are increasing.
      • The number of vehicles on the road is increasing.

      Rule: Both ‘the number of’ and ‘a number of’ are followed by countable nouns. That being said, ‘the number of’ is treated as singular and should be accompanied by a singular verb. ‘A number of’, however, is regarded as plural, so a plural verb should follow it.

      The number of plants and animals in the forest is decreasing.
      A number of people are going to the movies.

    2. Indefinite pronouns
      • Everybody in this room are willing to accept the challenge.
      • Everybody in this room is willing to accept the challenge.

      Rule: An indefinite pronoun does not refer to any specific person or thing. Therefore, indefinite pronouns are considered singular and require singular verb forms. Note that all the pronouns that end in -one, -body, or -thing fall into this category.

      Anyone, anybody, anything

      Everyone, everybody, everything

      Someone, somebody, something

      No one, nobody, nothing

      Whatever, whoever

      There are, however, 5 indefinite pronouns that can be either singular or plural depending on the context of the sentence. You can remember these 5 by the acronym SANAM.

      SANAM PRONOUNS: Some, Any, None, All, More/ Most

      In order to know whether these pronouns are singular or plural, you can look at the Of-phrase which usually follows the pronoun. The noun object of the Of-phrase can help you decide the number of the subject.

      Some of the money was stolen. (money is singular)

      Some of the documents were stolen. (documents is plural)

    3. Each/ every
      • Each of these skirts are pretty.
      • Each of these skirts is pretty.

      Rule: ‘Each’ or ‘every’ requires a singular verb form. The same applies for any subject preceded by ‘each’ or ‘every.’

      Every dog has paws.
      Every student in this class is hard-working.
      Each of the companies supports a local charity.

    4. And vs. Additive phrases
      • The ring as well as necklaces are available at the shop.
      • The ring as well as necklaces is available at the shop.

      Rule: While the word ‘and’, which unites two or more singular subjects, forms a compound plural subject and takes a plural verb form, this is not the case for other additive phrases. Examples include:

      As well as the fruits

      Along with Peter

      Together with a hat

      In addition to flowers

      Accompanied by me

      Including sugar and vinegar

      Unlike ‘and’, additive phrases do not form compound subjects. Rather, additive phrases function as modifiers and therefore cannot change the number of the subject.

      The tip is whenever you see these additive phrases: first, treat them as middlemen and ignore them, and second, look for the subject that precedes the additive phrase. If the subject is singular, the verb that follows must be singular as well. Otherwise, the plural subject must take a plural verb form.

      Literature, in addition to math and science, is a compulsory subject.
      Henry, together with his friends, is going to the concert.

    5. Or, Either… or, & Neither… nor
      • Neither the students nor the teacher are going to the ceremony.
      • Neither the students nor the teacher is going to the ceremony.

      Rule: Oftentimes, a subject may include a phrase such as or, either… or, or neither… nor. Such phrases link two nouns. If one of the nouns is singular and the other noun is plural, which verb form should be applied? The answer is: find the noun nearest to the verb, and make sure the verb agrees with this noun.

      Neither the house nor the apartments are for sale.
      Either the textbook or the novel belongs to Janice.

    6. Collective nouns
      A collective noun is a noun that looks singular (it usually does not end with an -s) but represents a group of people or objects. Examples include:

      People: agency, army, audience, board, choir, committee, crowd, family, group, jury, orchestra, team

      Items: baggage, equipment, fleet, fruit, furniture

      In British usage, many of these nouns are normally considered plural. Nevertheless, most writers, especially in the US, treat these collective nouns as singular. In some circumstances, collective nouns can be considered plural when you want to emphasize the individuals, not their unity. But if it’s too hard to decide on singular or plural, add ‘members of’ to your collective noun and you can go plural.

      The crowd is cheering loudly in the stadium.
      (This is preferred in American usage.)

      The crowd are cheering loudly in the stadium.
      (This is more common in British English.)

      Members of the crowd are cheering loudly in the stadium. (Using ‘members of’ forces you to use a plural verb, improves readability, and placates those believe that collective nouns should always be singular.)

    7. Either… or, & Neither… nor
      • Having good friends are a wonderful thing.
      • Having good friends is a wonderful thing.

      Rule: Sometimes the subject of a sentence is an -ing phrase or even a whole clause. This sort of subject is always singular and requires a singular verb form.

      In the above example, the subject is the singular phrase ‘having good friends’, not the plural noun ‘friends.’ Therefore, ‘is’ must be used instead of ‘are.’

      Whatever they want to do is fine with me.


Manhattan GMAT – Sentence Correction 5th Edition

Online Cambridge Dictionary:


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