Subject - Verb Agreement

Verb agreement

Rules 1 —

The verb must agree with the Subject in Number and Person. The number and the Person of the verb must be in agreement with the Number and Person of its subject. A singular subject must have a singular verb, and a plural verb must have a plural verb.

Formula –
       Subject             Verb
       I              go
       We              go
       You              go
       He              goes
       They              go
       John              goes
       A bird              flies
       Birds              fly

Formula –
       Subject         Verb
       Singular             Singular
       Plural             Plural

Note –
(1) It should be remembered that a verb has a Singular or a Plural Number in the Present Tense only. In the Past Tense the Singular and the Plural forms of the verb are the same. In the original form a verb is supposed to be in the Plural Number and Present Tense. When 's' or 'es' is added to the verb, it becomes a verb in the Present Tense and Singular Number. As –
Plural Verb in the
Present Tense
 Singular Verb in the
Present Tense
       Sit             Sits
       Run             Runs
       Eat             Eats
       Go             goes
       Fly             Flies
       Play             Plays
       Smile             Smiles

It should be remembered here that when 's' oe 'es' is added to a verb, it becomes Singular, but when 's' or 'es' is added to a Noun, it becomes Plural.

Formula –
    Verb   +  s/es     =    Singular
    Noun  + s/es      =    Plural

(2) Special attention needs to be paid to verbs 'to be'. Am, is, are, was, were are called verb 'to be'. Their forms change according to their Person in the Singular Number only, but in the Plural Number they remain the same with all Persons.
As –

Singular Plural
First Person I am/was We are/were
Second Person You are/were You are/were
Third Person He is/was They are/were
It is/was

(3) The following are the Singular and Plural forms of Verbs 'to be' and has and have –


       Singular            Plural
       is             are
       am             are
       was             were
       are             are
       has             have
       have             have

(4) will, shall, would, should always take have after them; they never take has, whether the subject is Singular or Plural. As —
  1. I shall have a new ball.
  2. We shall have a new balls.
  3. He will have a new ball.
  4. They will have new balls.
Thus, according to rule 1 above — (a) If the subject is in First Person, Singular Number or Plural Number, the verb will be accordingly in the First Person, Singular Number or Plural Number. As —
  1. I am late.
  2. We are late.
  3. I love children.
  4. We love children.
(b) If the subject is in Second Person, Singular Number or Plural Number, the verb will be accordingly in the Second Person, Singular Number or Plural Number. As —
  1. You are a scholar. ('you' Singular number)
  2. You are all afraid. ('you' Plural Number)
  3. You go there.   (Singular Number)
  4. You go there.   (Plural Number)
Note – It should be remembered that in English I and you are used as if they are in Plural Number. Therefore, with I and you the verb is always used in Plural Number. However, I takes am in the Present Tense and was in the Past Tense. (c) If the subject is in Third Person, Singular or Plural Number, the verb will be accordingly in Third Person, Singular or Plural Number. As —
  1. He is poor.
  2. They are poor.
  3. He reads a book.
  4. They read books
  5. He has a new house.
  6. They have a new house.

Exceptions to Rule 1. Above

It has been said in Rule 1 above that a Singular Subject takes a Singular Verb and a Plural Subject takes a Plural Verb. Therefore, however, the following three exceptions to this general rule:

(1) Dare not and Need not

These are the two typical Verbs which in negative sentences (where dare and need are followed by not) are used in the Plural form even with Singular Subjects.
“The third person singular is ‘need’, and not ‘needs’ just as ‘dare’ is used for ‘dares’ provided it is followed by a negative.” — Nestfield
As –
  1. He dare not oppose me.
  2. They dare not oppose me.
  3. He need not go.
  4. They need not go.
Note — If dare and need are used in the affirmative sense (i.e. without ‘not’) they take Plural form with the Plural Subject and Singular form with a Singular Subject. As —
  1. He dares
  2. They dare
  3. He needs
  4. they need

(2) Verb Of Supposition/Subjunctive Mood

The second exception to Rule 1 above is that Plural Verb is used with Singular Subject in sentences expressing mere imagination or impossible hope, wish or condition. As –
  1. If I were a bird.
  2. Were I a king.
  3. How I wish she were here.
  4. If I were you, I will do it.
  5. He behaved as if he were our master.

(3) Verb Of Wish/Blessing

The third exception is that in sentences expressing deep and sharp wish, blessing or hope, Plural verb is used with Singular Subjects. In this sentences the verb is used in the Subjunctive Mood. This use is now confined to a few sentences only. As –
  1. Long live the King.
  2. God save the King.
  3. Lord bless you.
  4. Long live our friendship.

Rule 2 —

If two or more Singular Subject are joined with and, they take verb in the Plural Number. As –
  1. John and Mark come here everyday.
  2. The father and son work together.
  3. Lightning and thunder come together.
  4. Johnson, Ben and Mark have come.

Rule 3 —

If two Singular Nouns point to only one person or thing, they take verb in the Singular Number. As –
  1. The great poet and scholar is dead.
  2. My friend and benefactor has come.
  3. The great warrior and patriot is being honoured.
  4. The Chief Engineer and Manager of the factory has agreed.
Note — It should be kept in mind that when two Nouns point to only one person or thing, the article is used only once with the first noun. If the article is used before both the Nouns separately, they would mean to point to two persons or things, and in that case Plural Verb would be used.
As –

  • The Chief Engineer and the Manager of the factory have agreed.

Rules 4 —

If two Subjects taken together mean one thing only, they take the verb in the Singular Number. As –
  1. Bread and butter makes a good breakfast.
  2. The horse and carriage stands at the door.
  3. Slow and steady wins the race.
  4. Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy , wealthy and wise.

Rule 5 —

If two or more Subjects have each or every before them, they take the verb in the Singular Number. Remember that each and every are used before Singular Noun only. As –
  1. Each boy and girl has to go.
  2. Every man, woman and child was glad.
  3. Each day and each hour is important.
  4. Every boat and every sailor was lost in the storm.

Rule 6 —

If two or more Singular Subjects are joined by or, nor, either...or, or neither...nor, they take a Singular Verb. As –
  1. Either John or Mathew is coming today.
  2. Neither he nor  I was there.
  3. Neither food nor water was available there.
  4. No boy or girl was present in the field.

Rule 7 —

If two or more Subjects are joined  by or, nor, either...or, or neither...nor, and if they are of different Numbers, the Plural Subject is placed near the verb and the verb is used in the Plural Number. As –
  1. Neither the teacher nor his students were present there.
  2. Either Paul or his friends have broken the glass.
  3. John or his brothers are expected to come.
  4. Mathew nor his friends were invited.

Rule 8 —

If two or more Subjects are joined by or, nor, either...or, or neither...nor, and if they are of different persons, the verb is used according to the Subject nearest to it. As –
  1. You or John is responsible for it.
  2. Either you or I am correct.
  3. Neither he nor you are to blame.
  4. Either she or you have to do it.

Rule 9 —

If two or more Subjects are joined by and, and if they are of different Numbers and different Persons, the verb is always used in the Plural Number. Also, if the Subjects have any First Person, the verb will be in First Person Plural, but if there is no First Person, but there is a Second Person, the verb is used in the Second Person Plural Number. As –
  1. He and I are going.
  2. My father and I have known him for many years.
  3. You and he are well.
  4. You and I have done our best.