Agreement: Subject and Verb

Subject-Verb Agreement

by Owen Fourie

~ Part One ~

The proper use of English grammar is essential in all your writing. This category will attempt to clear up some issues that are confusing to many.

Verbs must have subjects

Agreement is a good thing in every area of life, especially in English sentences. You cannot have a complete sentence without a subject and a verb. The verb is commonly defined as an action word, but I recently heard a better definition: “A verb is something with a subject.” These two things go together to contribute to a complete sentence, and they must be in agreement.

The verb tells you about the subject. It speaks of the subject’s action or condition:

  • The dog (subject) barks (verb speaking of the dog’s action).
  • The girls (subject) seem (verb speaking of the girls’ state) healthy.

In the above examples, there is agreement between subject and verb. This agreement would not be there if we were to say:

  • The dog bark.
  • The girls seems healthy.

If you read these two sentences aloud, a person whose mother tongue and first language is English will hear the error immediately.

The rule for subject-verb agreement

Subject-verb agreement is determined by the number of the subject. The number of the subject is its singularity or its plurality. If the subject is singular, the verb must agree and be singular too. If the subject is plural, the verb must agree and be plural too.

The rule is stated in this way:

A singular subject takes a singular verb; a plural subject takes a plural verb.

  • The dog (singular subject) barks (singular verb).
  • The girls (plural subject) seem (plural verb) healthy.

Don’t think of the word barks in the first example as a noun and regard it as plural (one bark, two barks). Here, it is a verb–a singular verb. Let’s extend the examples:

  • Singular subject and verb: The dog barks.
  • Plural subject and verb: The dogs bark.
  • Singular subject and verb: The girl seems healthy.
  • Plural subject and verb: The girls seem healthy.

Let’s use the Be Verbs (singular: is, are; plural: was, were) in these examples:

  • The dog was barking.
  • The dogs were barking.
  • The girl is healthy.
  • The girls are healthy.

This is a basic introduction to subject-verb agreement. There are some areas that cause confusion, and we’ll consider these in the next post.

If you need help with any grammar problem, ask here. How are you learning English Grammar? How useful are grammar textbooks to you? How would you describe them–clear, confusing, boring? Do you have any useful insights? What are your particular struggles? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

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A verb is something with a subject.”