The Importance of Subject-Verb Agreement

Have you ever read a sentence that just didn’t sound quite right, but you couldn’t put your finger on why?

It might have been because of something called “subject-verb agreement.”

Don’t worry if that term sounds like complicated grammar jargon—by the end of this lesson, you’ll not only understand what it means but also why it’s so important in your writing.

What Is Subject-Verb Agreement?

Let’s start with the basics.

In any sentence, two key players work together to convey meaning: the subject and the verb.

The Subject: This is the person, place, thing, or idea that the sentence is about. It’s the star of the sentence!

Example: “The dog” in “The dog barks.”

The Verb: This is the action word that tells us what the subject is doing.

Example: “Barks” in “The dog barks.”

Now, here’s where subject-verb agreement comes in.

It’s a simple rule that says the subject and verb in a sentence must match in number.

In other words:

  • If the subject is singular (just one), the verb must also be singular.
  • If the subject is plural (more than one), the verb must also be plural.

Let’s see this in action:

  • Correct: “The dog barks.” (singular subject, singular verb)
  • Correct: “The dogs bark.” (plural subject, plural verb)
  • Incorrect: “The dog bark.” (singular subject, plural verb—oops!)
  • Incorrect: “The dogs barks.” (plural subject, singular verb—another oops!)

In the incorrect examples, the subject and verb don’t agree in number.

This mismatch is what makes the sentences sound off. Subject-verb agreement is all about making sure this match is correct.

Why Does Subject-Verb Agreement Matter?

You might be thinking, “Okay, I get it, but why is this so important?”

Great question!

There are several reasons why getting subject-verb agreement right is crucial:

It Makes Your Writing Clear

When subjects and verbs agree, your sentences are clear and easy to understand.

But when they don’t agree, things can get confusing.

Consider these examples:

Correct: “The keys to the car are on the table.”

Incorrect: “The keys to the car is on the table.”

In the first sentence, we know there are multiple keys because the verb “are” is plural.

But in the second sentence, “is” suggests there might be only one key, which conflicts with the plural “keys.”

This mismatch can make readers pause and wonder what you really mean.

It Shows You’re a Skilled Writer

Good grammar is like a secret handshake in the writing world.

When your subjects and verbs agree, it signals to readers that you know your craft.

It’s like a chef who cooks a steak to perfection—it shows mastery.

On the flip side, subject-verb disagreement can make you seem less professional, like a chef who serves an overcooked steak.

It Keeps Readers Engaged

Have you ever been so engrossed in a book that you forgot you were reading?

That’s the power of smooth, error-free writing.

But if a book is full of grammar mistakes, it’s like hitting speed bumps while driving—it jolts you out of the experience.

Good subject-verb agreement helps your writing flow, keeping readers immersed.

It Prevents Misunderstandings

In some cases, incorrect subject-verb agreement can completely change your meaning:

“My favorite fruits are apples and oranges.” (You like both fruits.)

“My favorite fruit is apples and oranges.” (You like one fruit that’s somehow both apple and orange—which doesn’t exist!)

In professional or academic writing, such mistakes could lead to serious misunderstandings.

It Shows Respect for Your Language

Language is a tool we all share.

When we use it correctly, we show respect for this shared resource.

It’s like keeping a public park clean—it benefits everyone.

Good subject-verb agreement is part of using English responsibly.

Explore more topics:

Common Tricky Situations

Subject-verb agreement is usually straightforward, but some situations can trip us up.

Let’s look at these tricky cases:

Compound Subjects: When a subject has two or more parts joined by “and,” it’s plural:

“Tom and Jerry are chasing each other.” (Both Tom and Jerry are doing the chasing.)

But if the parts are seen as one unit, it’s singular:

“Macaroni and cheese is my comfort food.” (It’s one dish.)

Indefinite Pronouns: Words like “everyone,” “somebody,” “nothing” are singular, even though they might seem plural:

“Everyone is invited to the party.”

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.”

Collective Nouns: Words like “team,” “family,” “jury” can be tricky. They’re singular when seen as a unit, but plural when members act individually:

“The team is practicing hard.” (Acting as one unit)

“The team are arguing among themselves.” (Acting as individuals)

Phrases Between Subject and Verb Don’t let words between the subject and verb fool you:

“The basket of apples is heavy.” (“Basket” is the subject, not “apples.”)

“There” and “Here” Sentences In sentences starting with “there” or “here,” look for the real subject after the verb:

“There are many books on the shelf.” (“Books” is the real subject.)

Questions In questions, the subject often comes after part of the verb:

“Are the children playing outside?” (“Children” is the subject.)

Words That Sound Plural Some words end in “-s” but are singular:

“Mathematics is my best subject.”

“The news is good today.”

Titles and Names Even if a title sounds plural, it’s singular if it’s one unit:

“‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ is a classic series.”

None, Some, Any, All These words can be tricky:

“None of the cake is left.” (viewing “cake” as a whole)

“None of the slices are big.” (viewing individual slices)

Either/Or, Neither/Nor The noun closer to the verb decides the agreement:

“Either the dog or the cats are making that noise.” (“Cats” is closer.)

“Neither the cats nor the dog is making that noise.” (“Dog” is closer.)

Real-Life Examples

To see how subject-verb agreement works in the real world, let’s look at some examples from different areas:

News Headlines

Good: “New Study Shows Coffee Benefits”

Bad: “New Study Show Coffee Benefits” (Study is singular)

Correct agreement in headlines is crucial because they need to convey information quickly and clearly.

Restaurant Menus

Good: “Today’s special is grilled salmon.”

Bad: “Today’s specials is grilled salmon.” (“Special” is singular)

In a busy restaurant, clear menus help servers and diners communicate effectively.

Road Signs

Good: “Delays Are Expected”

Bad: “Delays Is Expected” (Delays are plural)

On the road, every second counts. Clear signs help drivers make quick decisions.

Product Labels

Good: “Contents are flammable.”

Bad: “Contents is flammable.” (Contents are plural)

Accurate labels can be a matter of safety.

Sports Commentary

Good: “The team is playing well together.”

Also Good: “The team are disagreeing on strategy.” (Members acting individually)

In sports, how you view the team—as a unit or as individuals—affects agreement.

Social Media

Good: “My family is on vacation.”

Good: “My family are taking selfies.” (Each person is doing it)

Even in casual online writing, agreement matters.

Academic Papers

Good: “The data suggest a new theory.”

Bad: “The data suggests a new theory.” (“Data” is plural)

In academia, precision is everything. “Data” is always plural.

Business Emails

Good: “The board of directors has decided.”

Bad: “The board of directors have decided.” (“Board” is one unit)

In business, clear communication builds trust.

Weather Reports

Good: “Thunderstorms are likely tonight.”

Bad: “Thunderstorms is likely tonight.” (Storms are plural)

Weather info needs to be clear so people can plan safely.

Song Lyrics

“My heart is full of love.” (Heart is singular)

“All the leaves are brown.” (Leaves are plural)

Even in creative writing, agreement helps convey meaning.

Tips for Mastering Subject-Verb Agreement

Now that you understand the importance of subject-verb agreement and its tricky cases, here are some tips to help you master it:

Identify the True Subject In each sentence, ask, “Who or what is doing the action?”

That’s your subject.

Don’t be distracted by other words.

Check for Compound Subjects When you see “and” between nouns, it usually means a plural subject. But remember exceptions like “peanut butter and jelly.”

Watch for Sneaky Plurals Some words like “scissors,” “pants,” and “glasses” are always plural:

My glasses are on the table.”

Be Careful with “Or” and “Nor” With “either/or” or “neither/nor,” the subject nearest the verb sets the agreement:

“Neither the players nor the coach is happy.”

Don’t Be Fooled by Prepositional Phrases Words in phrases like “of the,” “with the,” don’t affect agreement:

“A box of chocolates is a nice gift.”

Learn Common Irregular Plurals Some words have surprising plurals:

Child → Children: “The children are playing.”

Person → People: “People are complaining.”

Tooth → Teeth: “My teeth are white.”

Read Out Loud

Your ear can often catch agreement errors that your eyes miss. Read your writing aloud to spot issues.

Use Technology Wisely Grammar checkers can help, but they’re not perfect. Use them as a tool, not a crutch.

Practice, Practice, Practice Like any skill, subject-verb agreement improves with practice. Try online quizzes or workbooks.

Learn from Mistakes When you spot an agreement error (in your work or others’), take a moment to understand why it’s wrong.

This helps the rule stick.

Why Grammar Matters

Subject-verb agreement is just one part of grammar, but it reflects a larger truth: language has power.

Think about these scenarios:

Job Applications

Imagine two resumes, identical in qualifications. One has perfect grammar; the other has errors like “She work hard.”

Which candidate seems more professional?

School Essays

A student’s insightful history essay loses points for grammar mistakes like “The colonies was angry.”

The ideas are solid, but the delivery weakens them.

Online Reviews

You’re choosing between two restaurants. One’s reviews say, “Food are delicious.” The other’s say, “Food is delicious.”

Which feels more trustworthy?

International Business

In a global company, many employees use English as a second language.

Clear, correct grammar—like proper subject-verb agreement—helps everyone understand each other.

Building Trust

Whether you’re a journalist, blogger, or social media influencer, your words shape opinions.

Good grammar shows you care about accuracy, helping readers trust you.

Don’t Stress, Progress!

Learning grammar rules like subject-verb agreement can feel overwhelming.

You might worry, “Will I ever get this right?” The answer is yes, absolutely!

Here’s why:

You Already Know More Than You Think

If “The dogs barks loudly” sounds wrong to you, congratulations!

Your brain already understands subject-verb agreement. You’re just fine-tuning this instinct.

Mistakes Are Normal

Even professional writers make agreement errors sometimes. The goal isn’t perfection; it’s progress.

It Gets Easier

The more you practice subject-verb agreement, the more automatic it becomes.

Soon, you’ll fix errors without even thinking.

Writing Is a Journey

Every writer, from beginners to bestselling authors, is always learning.

Embracing this journey makes grammar less scary.

Rules Serve You, Not Vice Versa

Grammar isn’t about rigid rules; it’s about clear communication.

Subject-verb agreement isn’t a test to pass—it’s a tool to express yourself better.

Wrapping Up

Subject-verb agreement might seem like a small detail in the vast world of writing, but its impact is significant.

It’s like a tiny rudder that steers a massive ship—a small part with a big job. When subjects and verbs agree, your writing becomes:

  • Clearer, preventing confusion
  • More professional, showcasing your skills
  • Smoother, keeping readers engaged
  • More precise, avoiding misunderstandings
  • Respectful, honoring our shared language

Whether you’re texting friends, writing a school paper, or drafting a work email, good subject-verb agreement makes your message stronger.

It shows you care not just about what you say, but how you say it.

So the next time you write, take a moment to check: Do my subjects and verbs agree?

This small step can dramatically boost your writing’s impact.

After all, in the dance of language, when subjects and verbs move in harmony, your words truly come alive.

__________________________

Check out these awesome grammar books I recommend:

High School English Gram & Comp – by WREN & MARTIN

English Grammar in Use Book with Answers: A Self-study Reference and Practice Book for Intermediate Learners of English

OXFORD ENGLISH GRAMMAR COURSE ADVANCED WITH KEY (WITH EBOOK)

English Grammar (Language Workbooks) 

English Grammar: The Basics: The Basics

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