Agreement: Part one


Subject-Verb AGREEMENT

Agreement means “correspondence.”  Your sentences will express harmony if there is a proper relationship between subjects and verbs.

Lack of Harmony between subject and verb:

Sarah read the newspaper at night.     or…

New York are huge cities.

Harmony between subject and verb:

Many people read the newspaper at night.   or…

New York and Chicago are huge cities.


Rule for subject-verb agreement: a verb should always agree with its subject in number. That is, a singular subject requires a singular verb, and a plural subject requires a plural verb.

Singular subject and verb: Green ink is often difficult to read.

Plural subject and verb: The desks are highly polished.


* REMINDER: Unlike nouns, most singular verbs end in s.

For example: The tree sways; trees sway .

In addition, there are irregular verbs such as “to be.”

For example: The tree is green; the trees are green.

* HINT: Remember–sometimes sentences have extra filler and descriptive material which add flavour or texture. However, the essential nutrients of the sentence–the subject and verb–are not found in the filler.

For example:

Yesterday, despite the cold weather, Sandra ate an ice cream cone at the river front.

In its most basic form, the sentence is about Sandra (subject) eating (verb).

Exercise: in the following sentences choose the correct VERB.

1. Where (has/have) the toothpaste gone?

2. Dave and Chris (work/works) at the Academic Writing Centre.

3. Exams (exist/exists) to make our lives miserable.

4. Together, cake and ice cream (make/makes) a wonderful dessert.

5. Trees often (grow/grows) near bodies of water.

There are, however, several cases when you must take special care to achieve agreement !


A compound subject is formed by two or more words, phrases, or clauses joined by and and or (nor).

i) If the parts of a compound subject are linked by and, the verb is plural.

– The lioness and her cub share a close bond. (1+1 = 2)

ii) Singular subjects linked by or take a singular verb.

– Either Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant was chosen the most

valuable player in the league. (Only one person can be MVP)

iii) However, plural subjects linked by or take a plural verb.

– Neither alligators nor crocodiles make good pets.

(Even if we’re talking only about the alligators, we still have more than one alligator to consider.)

iv) Finally, when a plural subject and a singular subject are joined by or (nor), the verb agrees with the nearer subject.

The heat or predators pose a threat to newborn lion cubs.

(sing.)    (plur.)   (plur.)


– (Faulty)  The wall, as well as the floors, need repair.

– (Revised) The wall, as well as the floors, needs repair.

– (Faulty)  The attention of the students wander out the window.

– (Revised) The attention of the students wanders out the


In such cases, you must watch out for the plural constructions that might fall between your singular subject and its verb. The words floors and students are plural, but are not subjects in the above sentences. These “in-between” words simply tell about or describe the subject.

Exercise, Part A and B): Circle the correct verb, and underline the subject of the sentence. Explain your choice.

1. Poetry and Fiction (is/are) forms of creative writing.

2. Onions, sad movies, or happiness (make/makes) you cry.

3. The oil company informed me that neither it nor its representative (is/are) responsible for the damage to my car.

4. Margaret Atwood, like many contemporary Canadian authors, (write/writes) novels with political themes.

5. The whole computer package, including disk drive, printer, and programs, (is/are) too expensive for me.

To be continued…

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