Agreement of English Verb with the Subject
A sentence comprises a subject, which is a noun or pronoun, and a predicate, which again comprises a verb and an object. Verb is an essential part of a predicate, though object sometimes may be missing in a sentence. You will read in the following sentences that there is always a particular agreement between a subject and the verb of a sentence. The kind of subject always decides the kind of verb in a sentence.
1. If a sentence has a singular subject it is followed by a singular verb and if it has a plural subject it is followed by a plural verb, e.g.
(a) Saira lives in Pakistan.
(b) More people live in Asia than any other continent;
(c) A man and his wife have come here asking for work.
2. When the subject of the sentence is a phrase the following verb must agree with the main noun in the subject, e.g.
(a) Many leading members of the opposition party have tried to justify the decision.
(b) The only excuse that he gave for his actions wax that he was tired.
3. Two or more singular nouns or pronouns joined by and require a plural verb; as,
(a) Gold and silver are precious metals.
(b) Fire and water do not agree.
(c) Knowledge and wisdom have oft-times no connection.
(d) Are your father and mother at home?
(e) He and I were playing.
But if the nouns suggest one idea to the mind, or refer to the same person or thing, the verb is singular; as,
Time and tide waits for no man.
The horse and carriage is at the door.
Bread and butter is his only food.
The rise and fall of the tide is due to lunar influence.
The novelist and poet is dead.
4. Words joined to a singular subject by with, as well as, etc., are parenthetical. The verb should therefore be put in the singular ; as,
The house, with its contents, was insured.
The Mayor, with his councillors, is to be present.
The ship with its crew, was lost.
Silver, as well cotton, has fallen in price.
Justice, as well as mercy, allows it.
5. Two or more singular subjects connected by or or nor require a singular verb:
No nook or corner was left unexplored.
Our happiness or our sorrow is largely due to our own actions.
Neither food nor water was to be found there.
Neither praise nor blame seems to affect him.
But when one of the subjects joined by or or nor is plural, the verb must be plural, and the plural subject should be placed nearest the verb:
Neither the Chairman nor the directors are present.
6. When the subjects joined by or or nor are of different persons, the verb agrees with the nearer:
Either he or I am mistaken.
Neither you nor he is to blame.
Neither my friend not I am to blame.
But it is better to avoid these constructions, and to write:
He is mistaken, or else I am.
He is not to blame, nor are you.
My friend is not to blame, nor am I.
7. Either, neither, each, everyone, many a must be followed by a singular verb:
Neither of the two men was very strong.
Each of these substances if found in India.
Every one of the boys loves to ride.
Many a man has done so.
Many a man has succumbed to this temptation.
8. Two nouns qualified by each or every, even though connected by and, require a singular verb:
Every boy and every girl was given a packet of sweets.
9. Some nouns which are plural in form, but singular in meaning, take a singular verb:
The news is true.
Politics was with him the business of his life.
The wages of sin is death.
Mathematics is a branch of study in every school.
10. Pains and means take either the singular or the plural verb, but the construction must be consistent:
Great pains have been taken.
Much pains has been taken.
All possible means have been tried.
The means employed by you is sufficient.
In the sense of income, the word means always takes a plural verb:
My means were much reduced owing to that heavy loss.
His means are ample.
11. Some nouns which are singular in form, but plural in meaning take a plural verb; as,
According to the present market rate twelve dozen cost one hundred rupees.
12. None, though properly singular, commonly takes a plural verb:
None are so deaf as those who will not hear.
13. A collective noun takes a singular verb when the collection is thought of as one whole; plural verb when the individuals which it is composed are thought of:
The Committee has issued its report.
The Committee are divided on one minor point.
But we must be consistent. Thus, we should say:
The Committee has appended a note to its (not their) report.
14. When the plural noun is a proper name for some single object or some collective unit, it must be followed by a singular verb:
The Arabian Nights is still a great favourite.
The United States has a big Navy.
Gulliver’s Travels was written by Swift.
15. When a plural noun denotes some specific quantity or amount considered as a whole, the verb is generally singular:
Fifteen minutes is allowed to each speaker.
Ten kilometers is a long walk.
Fifty thousand rupees is a large sum.
Three parts of the business is left for me to do.
16. Some nouns are usually plural and take a plural verb. These include:
belongings, clothes, congratulations, goods, carriages, particulars, premises, riches, savings, stairs, surroundings, thanks, police, people, staff, etc.
(a) The company’s earnings have increased.
(b) Riches have wings.
17. Some nouns end in –s and appear as if they are plural. But when we use them as the subject, they have a singular verb:
(a) The news seems very interesting.
(b) Politics is popular at this university.
(c) Statistics was always my worst subject.
(d) Economics has recently been recognized as a scientific subject.