Rules Of Subject-Verb Agreement
The verb must agree in number and person with its real subject and not with any other noun that may immediately precede it.
Read the following sentences.
- One of my friends has gone to Beijing.
- Each of the boys was given a pen.
- Every one of us was given a prize.
- Neither of the combatants was able to win a decisive victory.
In the sentences given above, the verbs are all in the singular although the nouns immediately before them are all in the plural. This is because the real subjects of these verbs are not the plural verbs immediately before them, but the singular nouns at the beginning of each sentence.
Two or more singular nouns connected by and are normally followed by a plural verb.
- Tobacco and alcohol are injurious to health.
- Oil and water do not mix.
- He and I were at Oxford together.
Note that when two singular nouns connected by and together express one idea, they are followed by a singular verb.
- Slow and steady wins the race.
- Age and experience brings wisdom.
When singular nouns connected by and are preceded by each or every, they are followed by a singular verb.
- Each man and each woman has a vote.
- The ship was wrecked and every man, woman and child was drowned.
Singular nouns connected by or, either…or, neither…nor are followed by a singular verb.
- Neither John nor Peter has any right to the property.
- Either John or Mark has done this mischief.
- No prize or medal was given to the boy, though he stood first in the examination.
When the subjects connected by or or nor are of different numbers, the plural subject should be written last and it should be followed by a plural verb.
- Neither the Principal nor the lecturers were present at the meeting.
- Either John or his brothers are responsible for this.
- Neither the Chief Minister nor his colleagues have given any explanation for this.
When the subjects connected by or or nor are of different persons, the verb should agree in person with the subject nearest to it. The subjects should be arranged in the proper order – the person spoken to, first; the person spoken of, second; and the speaker last.
- Either you or John has to take the lead in this matter.
- Neither he nor I have money to spare for this.
- Neither you nor Alice seems to be capable of doing this.
Some nouns are plural in form but singular in meaning. They should be followed by singular verbs.
- The news is too good to be true.
- The wages of sin is death.
- Politics is a dirty game.