Grammar Essentials: Subject and Verb Agreement
Writing
Grammar Essentials: Subject and Verb Agreement

To get a good band score in IELTS it is important that your written and spoken language is accurate. As teachers we are always telling our students to check their subject-verb agreements but for many this is a real challenge. Don't worry though, I am here to help! Like most grammar challenges it can be overcome with a few rules and a bit of practice.  Let’s get started… In a sentence in the present tense the verb form changes depending on the subject. Let’s look at the verbs LIVE, HAVE, BE and WATCH to review this.    So first you must identify the subject and the verb in a sentence. If the subject is singular, the verb should be singular. If the subject is plural, the verb should be plural.   All very straightforward so far, the challenge comes as the sentences get more complex. Compound Subjects Sometimes two or more subjects are linked to one verb. These are called compound subjects. Depending on whether the subjects are joined with ‘and’ or ‘or’ the agreement will be different.  Let’s look at the rules: When subjects are linked with ‘and’, use a plural verb. Both the company director and an employee were involved in the court case.  My mother and my father enjoy travelling. When singular subjects are linked with ‘or, either…or, nor, neither…nor’, use a singular verb. Just a card or a balloon is enough. Either the first or second option is ok by me.  If all the subjects are plural, use a plural verb. Either the players or the coaches have made a mistake today. If there are both singular and plural nouns, the verb takes the form of the closest subject. Neither the children nor their father wants to move home. Either the equipment or the materials are unavailable today, sorry.   Distance from the verb If the verb does not come straight after the subject it is easy to get confused and make the verb agree with the wrong noun. For example: Teachers who work at the local school was at the meeting. The writer has taken the noun school and agreed with that. The correct subject of the sentence is ‘teachers’ so the subject-verb agreement should be: Teachers who work at the local school were at the meeting.    Collective Nouns Confusingly, we can use singular or plural verbs with many collective nouns. Let me help you to understand why … When a collective noun refers to a group of people our choice of singular or plural verb form often depends on whether we are thinking of the group as an impersonal unit (in which case we use the singular verb) or as a collection of individuals (in which case we use the plural verb). In all of the examples below either form is correct, you just need to be consistent.  My family is/are determined to remain here.  The team is/are third from the bottom of the league will also be relegated this year. The government need/needs to deal with the crisis in a sensible way.   Corporate bodies normally take a singular verb, like this: The UN says it has no plans to move troops to the war-torn area.  Amazon continues to grow despite the Covid-19 epidemic. The BBC has appointed a new director. Important: police and people always take the plural form.  People who have invested all their savings in shares are sure to lose out. Police in this area are currently investigating a burglary in the area.     Uncountable Nouns Uncountable nouns describe abstract concepts or nouns that can’t be counted (e.g. research, power, water and vegetation). They always take a singular verb.  This equipment has been unusable since last winter. The research bid was successful. Due to unprecedented rainfall this month water has entered many homes.    Language activity:  Download our activity worksheet to practice your subject and verb agreement: Worksheet download Once you have completed the worksheet, download the answer sheet to see how well you’ve done.  Answer sheet download I hope that this blog post has given you some help with subject-verb agreement. It is an area that many test takers find difficult and one of the first things you should be checking for when you edit your work. If there is another area of grammar that you would like me to write about just send us a message on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube.  See you soon! Emma 

Emma Cosgrave

11 December, 2020

Grammar Essentials: Subject and Verb Agreement

Grammar Essentials: Subject and Verb Agreement

To get a good band score in IELTS it is important that your written and spoken language is accurate. As teachers we are always telling our students to check their subject-verb agreements but for many this is a real challenge. Don't worry though, I am here to help! Like most grammar challenges it can be overcome with a few rules and a bit of practice.

Let’s get started…

In a sentence in the present tense the verb form changes depending on the subject. Let’s look at the verbs LIVE, HAVE, BE and WATCH to review this.

Grammar Table for Subject and Verb Agreement

 

So first you must identify the subject and the verb in a sentence. If the subject is singular, the verb should be singular. If the subject is plural, the verb should be plural.

Grammar for Subject and Verb Agreement

 

All very straightforward so far, the challenge comes as the sentences get more complex.

Compound Subjects

Sometimes two or more subjects are linked to one verb. These are called compound subjects. Depending on whether the subjects are joined with ‘and’ or ‘or’ the agreement will be different.

Let’s look at the rules:

When subjects are linked with ‘and’, use a plural verb.

  • Both the company director and an employee were involved in the court case.
  • My mother and my father enjoy travelling.

When singular subjects are linked with ‘or, either…or, nor, neither…nor’, use a singular verb.

  • Just a card or a balloon is enough.
  • Either the first or second option is ok by me.

If all the subjects are plural, use a plural verb.

  • Either the players or the coaches have made a mistake today.

If there are both singular and plural nouns, the verb takes the form of the closest subject.

  • Neither the children nor their father wants to move home.
  • Either the equipment or the materials are unavailable today, sorry.

 

Distance from the verb

If the verb does not come straight after the subject it is easy to get confused and make the verb agree with the wrong noun. For example:

Teachers who work at the local school was at the meeting.

The writer has taken the noun school and agreed with that. The correct subject of the sentence is ‘teachers’ so the subject-verb agreement should be:

Teachers who work at the local school were at the meeting.

 

Collective Nouns

Confusingly, we can use singular or plural verbs with many collective nouns. Let me help you to understand why …

When a collective noun refers to a group of people our choice of singular or plural verb form often depends on whether we are thinking of the group as an impersonal unit (in which case we use the singular verb) or as a collection of individuals (in which case we use the plural verb). In all of the examples below either form is correct, you just need to be consistent.

  • My family is/are determined to remain here.
  • The team is/are third from the bottom of the league will also be relegated this year.
  • The government need/needs to deal with the crisis in a sensible way.

 

Corporate bodies normally take a singular verb, like this:

  • The UN says it has no plans to move troops to the war-torn area.
  • Amazon continues to grow despite the Covid-19 epidemic.
  • The BBC has appointed a new director.

Important: police and people always take the plural form.

  • People who have invested all their savings in shares are sure to lose out.
  • Police in this area are currently investigating a burglary in the area.

   

Uncountable Nouns

Uncountable nouns describe abstract concepts or nouns that can’t be counted (e.g. research, power, water and vegetation). They always take a singular verb.

  • This equipment has been unusable since last winter.
  • The research bid was successful.
  • Due to unprecedented rainfall this month water has entered many homes.

 

Language activity:

Download our activity worksheet to practice your subject and verb agreement:

Download Worksheet

Worksheet download

Once you have completed the worksheet, download the answer sheet to see how well you’ve done.

Answer Sheet

Answer sheet download

I hope that this blog post has given you some help with subject-verb agreement. It is an area that many test takers find difficult and one of the first things you should be checking for when you edit your work. If there is another area of grammar that you would like me to write about just send us a message on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube.

See you soon!

Emma

Emma Cosgrave

Emma has been teaching IELTS for 20 years. She enjoys helping people to develop both their language skills and confidence.

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