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ELC - English Language Center Santa Barbara
Understanding Subject-Verb Agreement November 18th, 2014

It is easy to understand the rule of subject-verb agreement.  However, there are many different situations in the English language where the rule can be difficult to apply.  To refresh, let’s go over the rule!

When the subject noun is singular the verb must be singular.

When the subject noun is plural the verb must be plural.

Singular Subject and Singular Verb

The girl skates at the Boston Common Frog Pond.

The girl is having fun.

Plural Subject and Plural Verb

The girls skate at the Boston Common Frog Pond.

The girls are having fun.

Note: Verb  + -s/-es = third person singular present tense (regular verb)

Sometimes this rule can be hard to follow.  It is very important identify the subject and decide as a whole if it is singular or plural.

For example: Nouns that look plural but act singular

Some proper nouns that end in –s

The United States consists of 50 states.


The news is interesting.

Certain illnesses that end in –s

Shingles is painful.

Expressions of time, money, and distance

Twelve hours is a long flight.

Math expressions

Two and two is four.

Compound Subjects

Compound subject with and: plural verb

The cat and dog fight everyday.

Compound subject with nor/or: singular verb

The cat or the dog runs up the stairs.

Compound subject with singular and plural subject joined by nor/or: verb should agree with the subject closer to the verb

The boy or his friends play soccer on Sundays.


Singular subject, singular verb

One of the computers is broken.

Singular subject, singular verb

The captain, and all of his players, sprints as fast as possible.

Some instances can be tricky, but remember to identify the correct subject and analyze the subject as a whole in order to determine the correct verb plurality.  That way your subject and your verb will always agree!