Grammar Lesson: Compound Subjects
A subject is the doer of the action in a sentence. A compound subject has more than one subject.
In each of these sentences, the compound subjects are underlined.
- The cat and the mouse ran around the room.
- Neither the cat nor the mouse heard him.
- Both the youngsters and the adults enjoyed square dancing.
Here are two important rules when working with compound subjects. You will be introduced to several other rules on another page.
- Rule #1: Singular subjects joined by and usually agree in number with a plural verb.
- This plant and a large tree were in the photo.
- The older boy and his companion have the boxes of fruit.
- His dad and my brother are on the same work crew.
- Rule #2: Compound subjects that have a single entity agree in number with a singular verb.
- Bacon, lettuce, and tomato is Mitt's tastiest sandwich. (Bacon, lettuce, and tomato are a single entity here.)
- Chutes and Ladders was Ricky's favorite game. (Chutes and Ladders is a game—a single entity.)
- All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren is a good book to read if you are interested in politics. (Though the book's title features a plural noun, men, the title is considered a single entity. Thus, the verb is should be used.)
Here are some more handy rules about compound subjects to know and use in your writing.
- Rule #3: When singular subjects are joined by or or nor, use a singular verb.
- Neither the kangaroo nor the ostrich was awake.
- Either the monkey or the giraffe is here.
- Rule #4: Plural subjects joined by or or nor agree in number with a plural verb.
- The girls or the boys are going to the playground.
- Neither the girls nor the boys are at the playground.
- Rule #5: When a singular subject and a plural subject are joined by or or nor, the verb agrees in number with the subject closer to it.
- Neither the assistants nor the police captain has called you.
- Either the police captain or her assistants have called you.
- Either he or his three friends are going to the library this evening.
- Rule #6: If the compound subjects are in an interrogative sentence, answer the question to see which subject is closer to the verb.
- (Has, Have) either the boy or the girls reached the location? Answer the question: No, neither the boy nor the girls have reached the location.
- (Was, Were) either the girls or the boy with you at the dance? Answer the question: No, neither the girls nor the boy was with me at the dance.
- Neither they nor she is here.
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