TOEIC Grammar Guide – Subject-Verb Agreement
Proper sentences must have subject-verb agreement. Subject-verb agreement means the subject and verb match. A singular subject must have a singular verb. A plural subject must have a plural verb.
To make sure you use the correct verb form with the subject, use the following steps:
There are rules to follow to help decide what form the subject or verb is in. The subject of a sentence is usually a noun or pronoun.Singular and Plural Noun Forms
The plural form for most nouns is made by adding -s or -es.
Some nouns plural form is irregular. The irregular ones have to be remembered. Common ones include:
Some nouns with plural form are usually regarded as singular in meaning. Such words include athletics, economics, news, politics, mathematics and statistics.
The news tonight has to be good.
Measurements and figures ending in -s may be singular when the amount they refer to is a unit:
Three years is a long time to wait.
One-third of the lunchroom has new chairs.
Note: These words and amounts are plural when they describe single items instead of a whole:
The statistics show the market will improve.
One-third of the computers in the office have new memory cards.Compound Subjects
A compound subject, two or more subjects joined by and, takes a plural verb.
Coffee and tea are served hot.
The president, the CEO and the sale manager are having a meeting.
When the parts of the subject form a single idea or refer to a single thing, the verb is singular.
Ham and cheese is his favorite sandwich.
The new president and CEO arrives in an hour.
(The subject is one person who is both the new president and CEO.)
The new president and his CEO arrive in an hour.
(The subject is two people so the verb has to be plural.)Collective Nouns
A collective noun names a group of people or things. Examples are army, audience, government, family, group, team, and public. Although a collective noun looks plural, its considered to be one unit, a whole, so it is singular.
The group agrees that action is needed.
The public receives weather warnings on the radio and on TV.
Exception: Number as a collective noun can be singular or plural. When a comes before number, it is always plural. When the comes before number, it is always singular.
A number of employees have decided to car pool.
The number of people without jobs is dropping.Always Singular or Plural Words
Some words that can be part of the subject need to be remembered as always being singular or always plural.
Something is wrong here.
Neither is right.
Each employee gets 2 weeks paid vacation.
Everyone deserves to be happy.
Exception: When each follows a compound subject, the verb is plural:
The courier and the mailman each have parcels to deliver.
Few people go to the annual picnic.
Several of his friends work in the accounting department.
Both of them deserve a raise.
Many of the senior staff plan to retire early.Singular or Plural Indefinite Pronouns
Some indefinite pronouns can be singular or plural depending on what comes after them: some, all, most, any, and none. Whether they are singular or plural depends on the meaning of the nouns they refer to.
All of the money is kept for emergencies.
(All refers to the singular noun money, so the verb is singular.)
All of the reports were finished this afternoon.
(All refers to the plural noun reports, so the verb is plural.)
None of the parcels ever arrive on Monday.
(Parcels is plural, making none plural.)
Some of the team needs more time to prepare.
(Team is singular, making some singular.)Relative Pronouns
The relative pronouns who, which and that do not have different singular and plural forms. When used as a subject, its verb should agree with the noun it refers to.
The manager should listen to the people who work for him.
(Who refers to the plural people, so the verb is plural.)
Justin is the person who usually fixes our computer problems.
(Who refers to the singular person, so the verb is singular.)Conjunctions Or and Nor
When parts of a subject are joined by or or nor, the verb agrees with the part closest to it. If the closest part is singular, the verb is singular. If the closest part is plural, the verb is plural.
Neither the secretary nor the receptionist knows the phone number.
The engineers or the mechanics have the can of oil.
Neither the manager nor the employees were late.
(Manager is singular but employees is plural. Employees is closest to the verb so the verb is plural.)
Either he or they are early.
(He is singular but they is plural. They is closest to the verb so the verb is plural.)
Knowing whether the verb is in its singular or plural form shows which form the subject must be in. The singular present tense of many verbs is formed by adding -s or -es. Irregular verb forms have to be remembered.
The subject and verb still need to match when other words come between them. Such words are usually a phrase that starts with a preposition like of, by, with, from, and to.
A web site of new goods and services is being made.
(Web site is the subject, not services. Web site is singular.)
The profits earned by the computer industry have dropped in the past year.
(The subject is profits, not industry. Profits is plural.)
Subject-Verb Agreement Example Questions
When doing a question, first figure out what is the subject of the sentence.
Then decide if the subject is singular or plural. Use the rules. Lastly, decide which verb form will match with the subject.
Note 1: When two verb answers agree with the subject, then the verb TENSE must be looked at. Check for time words to help decide what verb tense is correct for the sentence.
He _____ his desk yesterday.
He is a singular subject so a singlular verb is needed. Both (A) and (B) are singular verbs. (A), not (B), is the correct answer. The word yesterday shows that the action is in the past so the verb must be in the past tense.
Note 2: When two verb answers match the subject and both are the correct tense, then decide which verb makes sense.
She _____ made a backup of her data.
(D) should have
She is a singular subject so a singlular verb is needed. Both (C) and (D) are singular verbs. Only (D) can complete the sentence correctly. The sentence does not make sense if (C) is used.