The Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin - Madison
The Writer's Handbook
Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb Agreement

Watch the subject-verb agreement in your sentences when...

When the subject follows the verb

When the subject follows the verb (especially in sentences beginning with the expletives "there is" or "there are"), special care is needed to determine the subject and to make certain that the verb agrees with it.

On the wall were several posters.

There are many possible candidates.

There is only one good candidate.

When words like "each" are the subject

When used as subjects, words such as

  • each, either, neither
  • another
  • anyone, anybody, anything
  • someone, somebody, something
  • one, everyone
  • everybody, everything
  • no one, nobody, nothing

take singular verbs.

Do not be confused by prepositional phrases which come between a subject and its verb. They do not change the number of the subject.

Each takes her turn at rowing.

Neither likes the friends of the other.

Everyone in the fraternity has his own set of prejudices.

Each of the rowers takes her turn at rowing.

Every one of the fraternity members has his own set of prejudices.

When words like "none" are the subject

Other words such as

  • none, any, all
  • more, most, some

may take either singular or plural verbs, depending on the context.

Some of the dollar was spent.

Some of the dollars were spent.

[Note: here the prepositional phrase does affect the subject. It tells you whether you are talking about a part of one thing (singular) or about a number of things (plural).]

When the subjects are joined by "and"

Subjects joined by "and" take plural verbs.

Be aware: phrases such as "in addition to," "as well as," and "along with" do not mean the same thing as "and." When inserted between the subject and the verb, these phrases do not change the number of the subject.

Both Tom and Jane have English 167 papers due on Tuesday.

Tom, as well as Jane, has an English 207 paper due Tuesday.

When singular subjects are joined by words like "or"

Singular subjects joined by "or," "nor," "either . . . or," or "neither. . . nor" take a singular verb.

Either the man or his wife knows the truth of the matter.

Neither money nor power was important any longer.

When one subject is singular and one plural

If one subject is singular and one is plural, the verb agrees with the nearer subject.

Neither the television nor the radios work.

Neither the radios nor the television works.

When a linking verb is used

A linking verb ("is," "are," "was," "were," "seem" and others) agrees with its subject, not its complement.

Joe's favorite dessert is blueberry muffins.

Blueberry muffins are Joe's favorite dessert.

When a collective noun is used

When regarded as a unit, collective nouns, as well as noun phrases denoting quantity, take singular verbs.

The whole family is active.

(Family is a collective noun regarded as a unit.)

The family have met their various obligations.

(The individuals of the family are regarded separately.)

A thousand bushels is a good yield.

(a quantity or unit)

A thousand bushels were crated.

(individual bushels)

When a relative pronoun is used as a subject of an adjective clause

A relative pronoun ("who," "which," or "that") used as a subject of an adjective clause takes either a singular or plural verb in order to agree with its antecedent.

A vegetable that contains DDT can be harmful.

(Adjective clause modifying the singular noun "vegetable.")

Vegetables that contain DDT can be harmful.

(Adjective clause modifying the plural noun "vegetables.")

Mary is one of the students who have done honor to the college.

(Adjective clause modifies the plural noun "students." "Students" is the antecedent of "who."

In the above sentence Mary is just one of the students. So at least two students have done honor to the college.

Compare that to:

Mary is the only one of our students who has achieved national recognition.

In this case, "one," not "students," is the antecedent of "who."

Compare to the sentence above:

Of all our students, Mary is the only one who has achieved national recognition.

For further information see our other pages on grammar, or you may wish to take one of our grammar classes