Subject-Verb Agreement

Make sure the subject and verb agree in number.

The rule for subject-verb agreement is quite straightforward. A singular subject takes a singular verb, and a plural subject takes a plural verb.

For example, if the subject is singular ("study hall"), then the verb must also be singular ("is"):

Study hall is often rowdy and fun, even though it is supposed to be quiet.

Likewise, if the subject is plural ("halls"), then the plural form of the verb ("are") must be used:

The halls are always filled with garbage, even though our principal just kicked off a campaign to clean up the school.

You should never have a singular subject with a plural verb, or vice versa.

For example, the following is incorrect:

The football players is holding a pizza sale to raise money for new uniforms.

This sentence can be edited to make the subject and verb agree, either by making the subject singular (football player is) or the verb plural (football players are).

Make sure the subject and verb agree when they are separated by a phrase.

When you place phrases between the subject and the verb, you sometimes inadvertently forget to make the subject and verb agree in number. Here's an example:

The homecoming court of seniors are coming into the stadium before the game.

Since the subject of this sentence, "homecoming court," is singular in number you need to use a singular verb. The sentence should read:

The homecoming court of seniors is coming into the stadium before the game.

Make sure a compound subject has a plural verb.

When you proofread your work, make sure you take the time to identify the subject in your sentences. Some sentences may have more than one subject. For example:

The basketball team and the wrestling squad have their final competitions tonight.

In this case, the complete subject is compound ("basketball team" and "wrestling squad"), and so the verb must be plural ("have").

Make sure a collective noun agrees with the verb.

When you use collective nouns such as group, jury, family, or board of trustees, you must decide whether to make the verb singular or plural according to how you intend to show the group acting. In American English, collective nouns are usually considered singular, as in this example:

The music group is holding auditions for a new drummer.

However, sometimes you might want to emphasize that the group acted as individuals, each person taking a different role. In this case, the collective noun would be considered plural and you would write:

The music group are arguing about whether they should go on tour or produce another album.

While correct, this sentence may sound awkward to you, and you can make it sound more natural by changing the noun "music group" to "members of the music group."