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Osceola Writing Center

Subject-Verb Agreement

Being able to locate and fix this error is very important for making sure that your writing is clear and flows well because if you have many of these kinds of errors, it can be distracting for your reader. This is a basic explanation of the issue. Please visit the other resources linked to at the bottom for more information.

 

What is it?

Subject-verb agreement (SVA) means that a subject needs to "agree" with its verb in number and person. If you have a singular subject, your verb should be singular; if you have a plural subject, your verb should be plural.

Incorrect: The researchers at the company is noticing a large change in population.

Correct: The researchers at the company are noticing a large change in population.

 

Where the Errors are Made

Generally, subject-verb agreement errors occur with present tense verb forms or with past continuous/progressive verb forms. To review verb tenses, click HERE.

Subject-verb agreement errors are localized in these tenses because past tense and future* tense conjugations are the same whether a subject is singular or plural.

For example:

He (singular) walked to the store. / They (plural) walked to the store.

She (singular) will go to the mall. / We (plural) will go to the mall.

*Not to be confused with present tense that can be used for future (We are going to the beach tomorrow.)

 

How to Fix

Present tenses and past continuous tense will need to change based on the number of the subject.

If one of these tenses uses a "be" verb (is, are, was, were, am) as either the main verb or a helping verb, it will need to be changed based on the number of the subject:

The dogs is black. --> The dogs are black.

We was eating lunch at the park. --> We were eating lunch at the park.

She have played soccer. --> She has played soccer.

For regular verbs that don't use "be" verbs, you will need to add an "-s" or "-es" to verbs that are 3rd person singular (ex. he/she/it).

The company buy products to sell. --> The company buys products to sell.

He watch TV everyday. --> He watches TV everyday.

 

If you can replace a subject with either "he", "she", or "it", then the verb needs to have an -s/es attached.

The book (it) requires a lot of work. ("it requires" not "it require")

The teacher (he/she) at the community center walks to work. ("she/he walks" not "she/he walk")

Keep in mind that the verb follows the subject, so if you mistake the subject, your verb may be incorrect.

Each of the languages are difficult. :(

Each of the languages is difficult. :)

In this example, "each" is the subject of the sentence (not "languages"). Since "each" is singular, we need "is" - not "are."

When you have a compound subject (more than 1 subject), your verb may need to change depending on what kind of coordinating conjunction (connecting word) you are using.

"and" adds subjects together (making verbs plural):

My teacher and my friend play basketball.

My teacher and my friend plays basketball. :(

"or/nor" do not add - the verb agrees with the closest subject:

His brothers or his sister likes to eat candy.

His brothers or his sister like to eat candy. :(

The whale or the dolphins are responsible for the problem.

 

More Resources

For a more detailed explanation and for more examples, check out:

Purdue OWL - SVA

Capital Community College - SVA

Towson - SVA

 

Exercises

Some of these worksheets contain explanations with exercises; others are simply exercises.

SVA Practice 1

SVA Practice 2

SVA Practice 3

SVA Practice 4

 

 
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