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Agreement in Sentences Help

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Updated on Sep 8, 2011

Subject-Verb Agreement

Subjects and verbs must always be compatible in number and person. A singular subject—referring to only one person, place, or thing—must be coupled with a singular verb. Likewise, plural subjects—referring to more than one—need a plural verb.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Notice the endings of the singular and the plural verbs. Unlike nouns, third-person singular verbs end in -s, while the plural verbs do not.

Verbs move sentences along. We are able to tell when events happen simply by noting the verb tense in a sentence. Because many verbs are easily recognizable, they come across as exceptionally harsh to our ears if used improperly. This is especially true of the most widely used verb form in the English language, be. The following table shows how be is conjugated according to number, form, and person (singular/plural, first/second/third person).

Subject-Verb Agreement

It is interesting to note that the conjugated forms of be don't include the word be itself. For reference, the nonparticipial forms of be are as follows: am, is, are, was, were.

That being said, it is not unusual to hear be used improperly as a verb in casual language. Remember this rule: Be never follows a subject in a sentence without a helping verb.

    Incorrect:

      I be taking the mail to the post office this morning.
      They be cooking dinner, and we be washing the dishes.

    Correct:

      I am taking the mail to the post office this morning.
      They are cooking dinner, and we are washing the dishes.

Tip: Do not let long sentences confuse you. Verbs do not have to agree with words that come between the subject and verb. "Jamal, as well as his best friends Alec and Carlos, is auditioning for 'American Idol'." The singular subject, Jamal, takes a singular verb, is.

Compound Subjects and Verbs

When two or more subjects share the same verb, you have what is called a compound subject. The conjunctions and, or, or nor are used to connect compound subjects.

Example:

Pink and black are traditional ballet colors.

When and is used, the subjects are looked at as equals, so the verb is plural. An exception to this rule is when the subjects are thought of as a single unit, like spaghetti and meatballs or macaroni and cheese.

When singular subjects are joined by or or nor, each subject is considered a separate unit, so the verb is singular. When plural subjects are joined by or or nor, the verb is plural, since each of the subjects is plural.

    Singular:

      Green or yellow squash is used in this recipe.
      Neither the chair nor the table has any scratches.

    Plural:

      Coaches or managers attend the monthly team meetings.
      Neither parents nor spectators have any interest in attending.

Tip: In a sentence with a singular and a plural subject, it may be hard to decide whether to use a singular or a plural verb. But the solution is simple: Whichever subject is mentioned last in the sentence, whether singular or plural, determines the correct verb to use:

    Either pancakes or cereal is available for breakfast today.
    Either cereal or pancakes are available for breakfast today.
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