Part Three Editing / Grammar Skills

Unit 10 Subject-Verb Agreement

Learning Objectives

  1. To understand what subject-verb agreement means
  2. To learn the strategies and ten rules in correctly using subject-verb agreement
  3. To apply the strategies and rules of subject-verb agreement through multiple examples and exercises

 

I. Pretest

snow-covered trees and houses
snow-covered trees and houses

In the following ten sentences are about snow days, some verbs are bold-faced. If the bold-faced part in the sentence is correct, choose “correct”.  If not, choose the other answer. After you finish one sentence, you will get instant feedback on your answer before the next sentence. If you make mistakes, you can retry all the questions or see all the answers at the end of the pre-test.

 

II. Meaning of Subject-Verb Agreement

In English, a subject and its verb must match each other. When the subject is singular, a singular form of the verb is used. When the subject is plural, a plural form of the verb is used.

The subjects are boldfaced, and the verbs are underlined below.

  1. Most students love snow days.
  2. When the weather is too severe due to snow and ice, schools are canceled.
  3. When that happens, students have a snow day.

 

III. Strategies for Subject-Verb Agreement

1. The best way to decide on the correct verb is to look back at the subject. Highlight the subject if necessary, as shown in the above examples.

 

2. When a subject looks complicated or unclear to you, turn it into a pronoun to see its singular/plural nature. That will help you decide on the verb.

  • In Chicago, there are usually a few snow days in most winters.

a few snow days → they (plural)

  • Though everyone has a day off, some teachers assign extra homework.

everyone → he or she (singular)               some teachers → they (plural)

  • The extra homework, like small projects, keeps the students busy and safe at home.

the extra homework → it (singular)

 

3. The ten common rules you will be learning in this unit will help you choose the correct verbs in most situations. Some rules may be different from how people speak in informal situations, but here you are focusing on formal, standard English usage.

  • None of my classmates enjoy driving in snow. (informal)
  • None of my classmates enjoys driving in snow. (formal)

 

4. Practice, practice, and practice while enjoying your journey of learning. Be conscious of the verbs you are using. It is fun to learn a different language, and it is empowering[1] to have the assurance[2] that you are using the language correctly in academic writing.

 

IV. Ten Common Rules of Subject-verb Agreement

Rule One. In general, a subject of singular nature takes the singular form of the verb. A subject of plural nature takes the plural form of the verb.
  1. We like outdoors, and our puppy loves outdoors, too.
  2. The cold weather always keeps us all indoors.

 

Rule Two. If a compound subject is used, understand it as “they” and use the plural form of the verb.
  1. A wool scarf and a pair of earmuffs protect us from the biting cold.
  2. Besides a warm coat, gloves and boots are also essential.
  3. Both a jumper cable[3] and a blanket are necessary to keep in the car.

 

Rule Three. When “or”, “either…or…”, or “neither…nor…” is in the subject, look at the part after “or” or “nor” to decide on the verb.
  1. The GPS navigation or a detailed map is very helpful if we are driving to a new location.
  2. The GPS navigation or printed directions are very helpful if we are driving to a new location.
  3. Either a blanket or warm clothes keep us warm during long-distance driving on a wintery day.
  4. Either warm clothes or a blanket keeps us warm during long-distance driving on a wintery day.
  5. Sometimes neither loud music nor talkative passengers are able to keep the tired driver awake.
  6. Sometimes, neither talkative passengers nor loud music is able to keep the tired driver awake.

 

Exercise 1. The following paragraph is about winter fun in the McCormick Tribune Plaza in Chicago. Choose and highlight the correct verb in each sentence. Look at the subject carefully before you decide on the verb. If necessary, turn the subject into a pronoun to help you. The first one is an example. When you finish the entire exercise, you can retry or see all the answers. (To highlight, you position your computer curser on the verbs and right click.)

a person wearing ice skate
person wearing ice skate

 

Rule Four. Many indefinite pronouns are singular. When such a pronoun is the subject, use the singular form of the verb.

Common indefinite pronouns include “everybody, everyone, everything, somebody, someone, something, nobody, no one, nothing, either of, neither of, one of, each of, none of”.

  1. Anyone in Chicago understands how difficult it is to arrive on campus on time on snowy days.
  2. One of my closest friends often comes fifteen minutes late because he is a new driver. “Better safe than sorry!” He always says.
  3. Each of our professors allows a few extra minutes for students to arrive at the classroom.
  4. Neither of my two courses counts attendance as part of the grade.
  5. One time everyone was late except the professor!
  6. Last week, none of the students was late. The whole class cheered as the professor started the lesson.

 

Rule Five. When “some”, “any”, “all”, or “most” is in the subject, the subject can be singular or plural. If the noun after these words is singular, use the singular form of the verb. If the noun is plural, use the plural form of the verb.

 

  1. Some of the students do not have classes early in the morning, so they can sleep in.
  2. There are no accidents on the road today as some of the snow has melted.
  3. All of the drivers were safe at their destination this morning.
  4. All of the snow was gone early this morning.
  5. Most of the professors encourage extra home study when the classes are canceled due to severe weather.
  6. Most of the extra work is optional for students.

 

Exercise 2. The following paragraph is about taking photos of the Bean in the Millennium Park in Chicago. Choose and highlight the correct verb in each sentence. Look at the subject carefully before you decide on the verb. If necessary, turn the subject into a pronoun to help you. The first sentence is an example. When you finish the entire exercise, you can retry or see all the answers. (To highlight, you position your computer curser on the verbs and right click.)

a woman taking photo of the Bean
a woman taking photo of the Bean

 

Rule Six. When a collective noun is used as the subject and is understood as acting together as one unit in the context, it becomes “it” and is followed by a singular form of the verb. If that collective noun focuses on its individual parts, it becomes “they” and is followed by a plural form of the verb.

Examples of collective nouns include “family”, “class”, “team”, “crowd”, “committee[4]”, “jury[5]”, “choir[6]“, “audience[7]”, etc.

  1. The family is very quiet. The school is announcing a snow day on the radio.
  2. The family are excited to be able to spend some time with each other at home.
  3. Our team always works hard.
  4. When the game was canceled due to snow, the team were not disappointed. They were excited to be able to visit each other’s homes.

If you are not sure, you can add a word like “members”.

Our team members always work hard. However, when the game was canceled due to snow, they were not disappointed. They were excited to be able to visit each other’s homes.

 

Rule Seven. When a gerund or an infinitive is used as a subject, use the singular form of the verb.

A gerund: verb + ing (It is not the same as the “verb + ing” in progressive tenses.)

An infinitive: to + base verb

  1. Reading is my main activity on a snow day.
  2. Postponing my homework till next week and dreaming of another snow day make me feel guilty but happy. (compound subject)
  3. Finding a parking spot close to my classroom building is almost impossible as many spaces are covered by snow and become “unparkable”.
  4. To secure a good parking space on campus around 10 am has been my struggle this semester.

 

Rule Eight. In a “There + a form of be” sentence, the verb depends on the noun after “be”.
  1. There are many parking spaces on campus, but the snow blowers usually “park” some of the snow in those spaces.
  2. Some students have no choice but park their cars in the employee parking areas. This happens more frequently when there is an important exam starting within ten minutes.
  3. There have been times when I am late for an exam just because it takes too long to find parking.

 

Exercise 3. The following sentences are about winter fun in the Lincoln Park Zoo near Chicago. Choose and type the correct verb in each blank. Look at the subject carefully before you decide on the verb. If necessary, turn the subject into a pronoun to help you. You will get instant feedback on your answer.  When you finish the entire exercise, you may retry or see all the answers.

Webpage of Lincoln Park ZooLights
Webpage of Lincoln Park ZooLights

 

Rule Nine. Some nouns are always singular even though they end with an “s”, and some other nouns are always plural. Use verbs according to the nouns.

 

Always Singular Always Plural
non-count nouns:  air, knowledge, milk, news, politics … apparels:   clothes, jeans, pajamas, pants, shorts …
school subjects:  linguistics, mathematics, physics … groups:   people, police …
countries:  the Netherlands, the Philippines, the United States … tools:   glasses, pliers, scissors …

 

  1. Cold air is fresh and crisp on a winter morning.
  2. The United States is a country where I am spending the coldest winter in my life.
  3. Young people like to venture out and enjoy skiing.
  4. Scissors are indispensable[8] for a snow-day art project. (A pair of scissors is indispensable. – Refer to Rule Ten below.)

 

Exercise 4. The following sentences are about winter fun in the Chicago Botanic Garden. Choose and type the correct verb in each blank. Look at the subject carefully before you decide on the verb. If necessary, turn the subject into a pronoun to help you. You will get instant feedback on your answer.  When you finish the entire exercise, you may retry or see all the answers.

Lights in Chicago Botanic Garden
Lights in Chicago Botanic Garden

 

Rule Ten. A subject and a verb may not always be side by side. When there is a prepositional phrase between them, cross out that the prepositional phrase.

A prepositional phrase is a phrase consisting of a preposition plus a noun, pronoun, etc.

examples: in the room, from him …

The prepositional phrases are crossed out below to help you locate the subjects more easily. You can see that the subjects and verbs do not change.

  1. Many international students often find Chicago winter intolerably long and cold.
  2. Many international students from warm countries often find Chicago winter extremely long and cold.
  3. A reliable car is essential on snowy days.
  4. A reliable car with good tires is essential on snowy days.
  5. A car dealership installs snow tires for customers.
  6. A car dealership on Golf Road near Harper campus installs snow tires for customers.

 

Exercise 5. The following sentences are about winter fun in the Chicago Theatre District. Highlight the correct verb in each sentence. Look at the subject carefully before you decide on the verb. If necessary, turn the subject into a pronoun to help you. The first sentence is an example. When you finish the entire exercise, you can retry or see all the answers. (To highlight, you position your computer curser on the verbs and right click.)

rows of red chairs in a theater
rows of red chairs in a theater

 

V. Unit Review Practice

 

Exercise 6. The following paragraph is about museums in Chicago. There are seven more errors in the use of subject-verb agreement (not including the example). Remember to locate the subject first in each sentence. Then Identify the verb error and correct it. The first one is an example.

Visiting Chicago Museums in Winter

dinosaur fossil display at Field Museum
dinosaur fossil display at Field Museum

           Museums in Chicago is (are) famous. There is more than sixty of them! They provide numerous educational and recreational indoor activities, especially in winter. There are always something for everyone. People of all ages like to go there and have fun. For example, the Field Museum have displays from ancient cultures to the most modern scientific discoveries. One of the most popular exhibits is the largest Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton Sue. The Museum of Science and Industry is another well-known place. Every winter, it have a special exhibit called Christmas around the World and Holidays of Light. This event started in 1942 with one single tree but have expanded into an annual holiday tradition since then. Visitors see a four-story Grand Tree with forty smaller trees around it. The trees represents celebrations from cultures around the world. No doubt, museums in Chicago keep people warm, safe, and entertained during harsh winters.

 

Exercise 7. The following paragraph about winter fun at home is adapted from a paragraph in an earlier unit. There are six more errors in the use of subject-verb agreement (not including the example). Remember to locate the subjects first. Then identify the verb errors and correct them. The first one is an example.

Zootopia movie in a home theater
Zootopia movie in a home theater

Winter Fun at Home

          Winters in some areas of America is (are) very cold. Many people have to stay home, but they do not need to miss fun. The first interesting thing they can do is to make home a fun zone. For instance, they can set up a simple but comfortable home theatre with just a TV and a couch. A bag of popcorn and a cup of hot chocolate adds to a feeling of warmth and relaxation no matter how heavily it is snowing outside. Second, they can make household chores into a competition. Every week, they have a cleaning game. The older child vacuum the carpet, the younger child dust the furniture, and the parents clean the kitchen appliances. They can rotate being the judge and deciding on the prizes. Children are usually happier to do housework when it is fun. Lastly, they can continue with physical activities at home. If they have a treadmill or stationary bike at home, that will be great. However, it is still fine without it. On the Internet, there is many fitness programs with no required equipment, so everyone can choose what he or she like to do. One person can choose aerobics, and another can do tai chi. Winters can be long, but they do not have to be boring. It depend on the people to find fun things to do at home.

 

Exercise 8. In the following paragraph about winter dining in Chicago, there are ten more errors in the use of subject-verb agreement (not including the example). Remember to locate the subjects first. Then identify the verb errors and correct them. The first one is an example.

Winter Dining in Chicago

 

two igloos
two igloos

          As cold as Chicago winters are, there is (are) always many fun things to do both indoors and outdoors for everyone. Everyone are able to find activities to his or her liking. Young people loves ice-skating in the McCormick Tribune Plaza and photo shooting in the Millennium Park. Children delight[9] in light gazing in the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Many people like to stay indoors. Watching a play in the Chicago Theater District or visiting Sue in the Field Museum guarantee a warm and safe outing.  There are also many restaurants in Chicago. Believe it or not, there are outdoor dining in the deep cold. “From heated[10] igloos[11] to enclosed patios to rooftop bars, there are tons of outdoor dining.” One of the restaurants are Beatrix Fulton Market. It offer covered[12] igloos and heated greenhouses. Each greenhouse hold two to four customers and have a dinning time limit of one and a half hours. The igloo dining booking fee costs $150. Neither the food nor the drinks is included in this fee. Eating there is expensive, but the dining experience will be unforgettable. If anyone are interested, it is important to check for updates at https://www.choosechicago.com/blog/dining/open-patio-rooftops-dining-chicago/.

 

The information about indoor dining, along with the quote, was adapted from the above website. Last accessed on January 15, 2021.

 

Exercise 9. Choose two of the topics to write a paragraph each. Pay attention to the subject-verb agreement.

  1. What are different ways you have fun in winter?
  2. What are popular places in your native country where people like to spend the winter?
  3. What safe winter driving tips would you like to share?
  4. What are different ways children enjoy snow days?
  5. Have you had a snow day? If so, what did you do?

 

 NSNT Practice

a pen writing in a notebook
a pen writing in a notebook

Go to The NSNT Free Writing Approach and Additional Weekly Prompts for Writing in Appendix A. (Open Appendix A here.) Choose two topics to write a paragraph each. You may start with the NSNT approach. Then revise and edit your paragraphs. Pay attention to the subject-verb agreement in each sentence. You are encouraged to share your writing with your partner and help each other improve.

 

Vocabulary Review

a page in a dictionary
a page in a dictionary

The words here have appeared in this unit.  The best way to learn them is to guess the meaning of each word from the context.  Then hover your computer mouse over the number beside each word to check its meaning and part of speech. These words are also listed in the footnote area at the end of each unit.

Here, you can use the flashcards below to review these words.

 

 

 

Summary

  1. A subject and its verb must match each other.
  2. The following strategies will help you use subject-verb agreement correctly:
  • Identify the subject first.
  • Turn a complicated subject into a pronoun to see its singular/plural nature before deciding on the verb.
  • Understand the rules.
  • Keep practicing.
  1. The following are ten common rules in subject-verb agreement:
  • In general, a subject of singular nature takes the singular form of the verb. A subject of plural nature takes the plural form of the verb.
  • If a compound subject is used, understand it as “they” and use the plural form of the verb.
  • When “or”, “either…or…”, or “neither…nor…” is in the subject, look at the word after “or” or “nor” to decide on the verb.
  • When an indefinite pronoun is the subject, use singular form of the verb.
  • In sentences with “some”, “any”, “all”, or “most” as the subject, if the noun after these words is singular, use the singular form of the verb. If the noun is plural, use the plural form of the verb.
  • When a collective noun is used as the subject and is understood as acting together as one unit in the context, it becomes “it” and is followed by a singular form of the verb. If that collective noun focuses on its individual parts, it becomes “they” and is followed by a plural form of the verb.
  • When a gerund or an infinitive is used as a subject, use the singular form of the verb.
  • In “There + a form of be” sentences, the verb depends on the noun after “be”.
  • Some nouns are always singular, and some are always plural. Use verbs according to the singular or plural nature of the nouns.
  • When there is a prepositional phrase between the subject and the verb, cross out that the prepositional phrase when you look for the subject.

 

 

Media Attributions


  1. empowering: adjective, feeling powerful
  2. assurance: noun, the feeling of being sure
  3. a jumper cable: noun phrase, a wire to jump start a car when the car battery is not working
  4. committee: noun, a group of people selected to work on a special task
  5. jury: noun, a group of people in the court to decide whether a person is guilty of a crime
  6. choir: noun, an organized group of singers
  7. audience: noun, a group of people watching or listening, such as in a movie theater or sport game
  8. indispensable: adjective, absolutely necessary, essential
  9. delight: verb, enjoy
  10. heated: adjective, warm, with heating on
  11. igloo: noun, a "house" made of ice and snow
  12. covered: adjective, having a roof or lid

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