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Subject-verb agreement

A common problem in some students' work are errors between subject and verb agreement. This is where the subject does not agree with the verb:

e.g. Theories suggests that modern healthcare standards is not effective.

This can be due to whether the noun in the sentence is plural or single or that the pronoun (subject) is not matching the main verb.

Below are some guidelines here which may help prevent this in your writing.


General guidelines

1. The subject and verb might have many words between them. The subject still controls the verb:

  • This university, which is made up of many students, teachers, and others, is large.
  • The colours of a gas spectrum tell of its chemical composition.
  • The effect which these reactions caused during the last three weeks is insignificant.

2. Subjects with two or more parts joined by ‘and’ usually require a plural verb:

  • Krypton and neon are noble gases.
  • Salt and pepper are always on the table.

However, if two subjects are thought of as a single thing, then use a singular verb. For example:

  • Fish and chips is my favourite dish.

3. Subjects with two or more parts joined by or, nor, neither. . , nor. . ., either. . . or. . ., not only. . ., but also. . . require the verb to agree with the final noun:

  • Salt or pepper is always on the table.
  • Real estate or securities are a suitable investment at this time.
  • Neither stocks nor real estate is a good investment at the moment.

4. In sentences that begin with here or there, the subject is after the verb, and determines the verb:

  • There are four students in my presentation group and we will discuss the marketing plan.
  • There is a single main idea in my first paragraph.

5. Certain groups of words look plural, but are singular. This is especially true for subjects and disciplines, and for illnesses:

  • Physics is the science of matter and energy.
  • Diabetes is a terrible disease.
  • Other words in these categories include economics, electronics, mathematics, and measles, mumps, and shingles.

6. When writing about measurements, the singular verb is usually used:

  • Four grams of magnesium was used in the chemical experiment.

7. The indefinite pronouns everybody, everyone, everything take singular verbs:

  • Everything in chemistry is explainable in atomic terms and widely explored in the literature.

8. However, plural determiners like few, many, several, both, all, some take plural verbs:

  • Many of my fellow students are ready for their presentations today.
  • Few things at university are more valuable than making good friends.

9. Collective nouns often take singular verbs:

  • My family is very supportive of my studies here.

However, they may also take plural verbs. For example:

  • My family are very supportive of my studies here.

Which is correct? Often it depends on how you think of the group: ‘My family’ as a single unit, or ‘My’ family as several individuals. Other collective nouns like this include team, class, cohort, government, crowd, and orchestra.

10. All of, any of, enough of, more of, most of, none of, some of, a quantity of, and similar subjects can take a singular or plural noun. The best guide is to look at the object of the preposition of:

  • None of this material is suitable for industrial applications.
  • None of these materials are suitable for industrial applications.

11. Titles take singular verbs. This is for books, movies, songs, stories, and the like:

  • The Regulations of the Senate is a very important document in Australian politics and has a distinguished history.
  • The Annals of the Australian Historical Society is edited by Dr Proctor.


Test your knowledge

Correct these sentences - all of which are inaccurate.

  1. There is four students in my presentation group and we will discuss the marketing plan.
  2. The Regulations of the Senate are a very important document in Australian politics and have a distinguished history.
  3. Everything in chemistry are explainable in atomic terms and widely explored in the literature.
  4. Krypton and neon is noble gases.


The correct answers are all on this page somewhere.


For more help

For more help with grammar issues affecting your assignment work, there are many useful resources on the HELPS website, as well as in the UTS Library. You can also come and talk to the HELPS Advisors who can assist you.

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Adapted from:
Collins Cobuild English Grammar 1990, William Collins and Sons, London.
Style manual: for authors, editors and printers 2002, 6th edn, John Wiley and Sons Australia, Milton, Queensland.
Your Dictionary 2012, 20 rules of subject verb agreement (opens an external site), LoveToKnow Corp, viewed 19 September 2012.


Subject-verb agreement (PDF, 197.90kB, 4 pages)