Grammar Yammer: Subject Verb Agreement


Subject verb agreement is one of those things that you always hear about from English teachers. However, a lot of times, it is not something that we need to actively think about, and thus, many of us don't notice it when speaking or even reading and writing. Here is the down low on what subject verb agreement is and how to approach it. This is something that is commonly tested on many standardized exams such as the SAT and the ACT, so pay close attention!


Subject verb agreement essentially means that the subject and the verb have to agree. Sounds simple. Doesn't it? The basic rule is that singular subjects take singular verbs, and plural subjects take plural verbs.


Singular Subject + Singular Verb


Let's look at a sample sentence. 


The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.


In that sentence, the subject is "the fox", and the verb is "to jump". In the sentence, we can see that the verb "to jump" has been changed to "jumps" in order to match the subject "the fox". As "fox" is singular, the verb "jumps" also has to be singular in order to match. 


Plural Subject + Plural Verb


Now, let's look at a sentence with a plural subject and plural verb.


The dogs chase each other in the park.


Here, the subject is "the dogs", which is plural. Hence, the verb that follows, "chase", is also plural. Seems simple enough right?


Subject + Prepositional Phrase + Verb


That said, many students get confused when there are extra words between the subject and the verb. Let's have a look at this next example.


One of the three taxis was yellow, while the others were green.


This is when people may get confused with which part of the sentence is the subject. Here, the subject is "one", which should go with "was yellow" and not "taxis", which would go with "were yellow". As "one" is a singular subject, the verb that follows should be in singular form. So the verb that follows should be "was" and not "were". This is when determining subject-verb agreement by ear can be risky as it is instinctive to connect "taxis" to the plural form of the verb which is "were".


"Of the three taxis", or the extra portion of the sentence between the subject and the verb, is actually called a prepositional phrase. When approaching sentences with prepositional phrases, be careful to identify the subject first instead of just playing it by ear. First, look at the sentence without the prepositional phrase to determine if it sounds right. This sentence can essentially be shortened to "One was yellow, while the others were green." It is much easier to tell if this version of the sentence is correct. Once you take out the prepositional phrase, it becomes much easier to find the answer by ear.


Subject + Non-Essential Clause + Verb


Another possibility is that there may be a non-essential clause inserted between the subject and the verb. When this happens, just like you would deal with any other non-essential clauses, look at the sentence without the non-essential clause to see if it makes sense.


Bubble tea, a popular drink in many Asian countries, is said to have high caloric content.


Here, the subject is "bubble tea", followed by the non-essential clause "a popular drink in many Asian countries". As "bubble tea" is a singular subject, the verb that follows, "is", should also be singular. 


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