Posted in Mini-Lessons

Subjects and Verbs

Today’s mini-lesson is about making present tense subjects and verbs agree. Present tense often causes more agreement problems than any other tense (in my experience, at least).

So, here are some rules to remember when making your subjects and verbs agree!

Rule 1

Single Subject –> Singular Verb

Plural Subject –> Plural Verb

The trouble with this rule is that we often think to add an -s to the word to make it plural, but that doesn’t work with verbs. The only form of the verb that gets the -s ending is the 3rd person singular form.

Take a look at this conjugation of the verb to play.

  Singular Plural
First Person I play We play
Second Person You play You (all) play
Third Person He, She, It plays They play

If you will notice, the only one that changed form was third person singular. That’s awesome, huh? (Go ahead and nod your head.)

Here are some examples of this rule.

  • The boy plays with the toy.  (3rd person singular subject)
  • The boys play with the toy.  (3rd person plural subject)

In those examples, the one that gets the -s ending is the first one, the third person singular one!

Rule 2

In most cases,you can ignore the prepositional phrase when making subjects and verbs agree. (There are a few exceptions!)

Consider the difference between these two sentences.

  • One of the boys is sick.
  • Four of the boys are sick.

In each one, the prepositional phrase is of the boys. But, the verb changes. The reason this happens is because the subject of the sentence is not boys. The verb must agree with the subjects one and four, respectively. Sometimes people mistake the object of the preposition, boys, as the subject since it is closer to the verb. Don’t let the words trick you!

There are some exceptions to this rule: some, any, all, none, most.

If the subject is one of those words, you have to look at the object of the prepositional phrases to make the right verb choice.

Consider these examples.

  • Some of the pie is gone.
  • Some of the pies are gone.

In the first example, some of one pie is gone, so the verb is singular, but in the second example, some of the pies (plural) are gone, so the verb is plural.

Those are the only five exceptions though.

Rule 3

Compound subjects joined by “and” are plural, but compound subjects joined by “or” or “nor” must agree with the subject closer to the verb.

Consider these examples.

  • The coach and the players take a break.
  • The coach or the players take a break.
  • The players or the coach takes a break.

In the first sentence, we have a compound subject with the nouns joined by and. Since they’re joined by and, the verb is plural. No problem.

In the other two sentences, the subjects are joined with or. Therefore, we must make the verb agree with the one closer to it. In the second sentence, players is closer to the verb. Players is third person plural, so the verb doesn’t get the -s ending. But, in the third sentence, the noun closer to the verb is coach, which is third person singular, so the verb gets the -s ending.

Isn’t that neat? (The correct answer is yes.)

Rule 4

Some special subjects are always singular. These are one, anyone, someone, everyone, no one, anybody, nobody, everybody, somebody, each.

When one of these words is the subject of the sentence, use a singular verb.

Here is an example.

  • Each of the passengers has a ticket.

In this sentence, the passengers are acting independently, even though there are several of them, so the verb must be singular.

Here is another example.

  • Everyone in the crowd cheers.

In this example, everyone in the crowd is doing the action individually, so the verb must be singular.

Those four rules should get you pretty far in your writing. Hopefully they help. If not, drop me a comment below the post, and I will be happy to help answer your questions!