In every sentence, the verb has to agree with the subject. If the subject is singular, the verb should also be singular. If the subject is plural, the verb too should be plural.
Singular and plural verb forms
In the simple present tense, a singular verb takes the marker –s whereas the plural verb does not have any such marking.
- Rahul wants to be a pilot. (Here the verb ‘want’ becomes ‘wants’ because the subject is the singular noun Rahul.)
- The boys want to play cricket. (Here the verb does not take the marker –s because the subject is the plural noun ‘boys’.)
Auxiliaries used with singular subjects
The primary auxiliaries is, was, does and has are used with singular subjects. Note that they all have –s in them.
The primary auxiliaries are, were, do and have are used with plural subjects.
Singular and plural subjects
A singular subject denotes just one person or thing. Examples are: flower, bird, tree, child, book, girl, man, school, country etc. A plural subject denotes more than one person or thing. Examples are: flowers, birds, trees, children, books, girls, men, schools, countries etc.
Singular and plural pronouns
Pronouns can be singular or plural. The pronouns he, she and it are singular in number. They are used with the auxiliaries is, was, does and has. When a singular pronoun is the subject, the verb takes the marker –s in the simple present tense.
The pronouns you, they and we are plural. They are used with the auxiliaries are, were, do and have.
The first person singular pronoun ‘I’ has different grammatical properties from other singular pronouns. In the simple present tense, ‘I’ is used with ‘am’ and ‘does’. In the present perfect tense, ‘I’ is used with ‘have’ and in the simple past tense, ‘I’ is used with ‘was’.
Basic rules of subject-verb agreement
When the subject is composed of two or more singular or plural nouns or pronouns connected with ‘and’ the verb should be plural.
- Rohan and Sania are playing with the ball. (Here we use the plural verb because the subject consists of two singular nouns connected with and.)
- The mother and her daughters enjoy organizing parties.
- The boys and the girls are practicing their steps.
- The mother bird and her chicks live in this nest.
When the subject is an expression like ‘one of the ……..’, ‘some of the ….’ and ‘none of the ………..’, the verb agrees with the quantifier one, none, some etc.
- One of my friends lives abroad. (Here the subject is the singular expression ‘one’ and hence we use a singular verb.)
A lot of students use plural verbs with expressions like these thinking that the subject is the word that goes immediately before the verb. That is not the case. In the majority of expressions like these, the subject is the word that goes at the beginning of the expression.
More examples are given below.
- Some of my friends live abroad. (Here the subject is the plural expression ‘some’ and hence we use the plural verb ‘live’.
None of my friends was there to help me. (‘None’ is usually regarded as singular and hence we use a singular verb with it. Note that a plural verb can be used with ‘none’ in an informal style. However, students are advised to use the singular form.)
Sometimes a phrase comes between the subject and the verb. In this case, the verb should agree with the actual subject and not with the noun or pronoun in the phrase.
- The colours of the rainbow are very beautiful. (Here the plural verb ‘are’ agrees with the plural subject ‘colours’.)
Study the examples given below.
- James, as well as Maria, was delighted to hear the news. (Here the singular verb ‘was’ agrees with the singular subject James.)
- The mother hen, along with her chicks, is searching for worms in the ground. (Here the singular verb ‘is’ agrees with the singular subject ‘hen’.)
Note that when these nouns are connected with ‘and’ we will need a plural verb.
- James and Maria were delighted to hear the news.
- The mother hen and her chicks are searching for worms in the ground.
Or, either…or, neither….nor
When two or more singular nouns are connected with ‘or’, ‘either…or’ or ‘neither…nor’, the verb agrees with the noun closest to it.
- Neither my brother nor his friends eat fish. (Here the plural verb ‘eat’ agrees with the plural noun ‘friends’.)
- Neither the professors nor the principal was present at the meeting. (Here the singular verb ‘was’ agrees with the singular noun ‘principal’.)
- Rohan or his brothers are responsible for this. (Here the plural verb ‘are’ agrees with the plural noun ‘brothers’.)
Collective nouns such as family, team, staff and audience are usually regarded as singular and take a singular verb.
- The audience was enthralled by his performance.
- The staff is expecting a bonus.
- My family lives in India.
- Subjects like physics, science, mathematics, civics and economics take a singular verb.
- Physics is my favourite subject.
Words like scissors, trousers, pants, tweezers, tongs, socks etc., take a plural verb.
- My socks are torn.
- The scissors are in the drawer.
Indefinite pronouns like somebody, anybody, everybody and nobody takes a singular verb.
- Nobody is perfect.
- Someone has let the cat in.
- Everybody needs love and appreciation.