Subject/Verb Agreement

The subject must agree with the verb in number and person.

A simple subject is obviously either singular or plural.

NUMBER Singular A dog chases a cat.
Plural Dogs chase cats.

Remember that the present-tense verb often changes with respect to person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd).

PERSON 1st person I chase my dog.
3rd person My dog chases cats.

A compound subject is usually plural.

Plural The dog and the cat are fighting over the fish.
Plural Bubba and Earlene are married.

Sometimes a subject that seems to be plural is actually singular.

WRONG The first of the terrorists in the video were dressed like a woman.
Right! The first of the terrorists in the video was dressed like a woman.

With compound subjects joined by or/nor, the verb agrees with the noun or pronoun that is closer to the verb.

NUMBER Wrong Neither the children nor their mother were smoking cigars.
Right! Neither the children nor their mother was smoking cigars.
NUMBER Wrong Either the students or their teacher are bringing cookies.
Right! Either the students or their teacher is bringing cookies.

Some indefinite pronouns (all, some, several, few, both, many) take a plural or singular verb, depending on when the pronoun refers to a countable or non-countable noun.

NUMBER
countable
Wrong All the men on the team likes beer.
Right! All the men on the team like beer.
NUMBER
non-countable
Wrong All beer in cans taste nasty.
Right! All beer in cans tastes nasty.
NUMBER
countable
Wrong Some of the boys in the class was sleeping.
Right! Some of the boys in the class were sleeping.
NUMBER
non-countable
Wrong Some of the rice were not cooked.
Right! Some of the rice was not cooked.

CAUTION: Test Alert!

Standardized tests, such as the ACT, will often throw a sentence at you with the subject separated from the verb with many other words and phrases. See the examples below to avoid being tricked.

TRICKY
SUBJECTS
Wrong Medical treatment with any of several antidepressants sometimes help people with depression.
Right! Medical treatment with any of several antidepressants sometimes helps people with depression.
TRICKY
SUBJECTS
Wrong Intense exercise in several popular video programs advertised on television commercials have become popular in our fitness-crazed society.
Right! Intense exercise in several popular video programs advertised on television commercials has become popular in our fitness-crazed society.