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Subject/Verb Agreement.

We usually do not have to think about making the verb agree with its subject. We would not write

She give the biscuits to her daughter.

I gives the biscuits to my daughter.

There are, however, instances where it is possible to mismatch the verb and the subject without it sounding as disjointed as the above examples do.

Plural subject, singular verb.

In this sentence, careful planning and a clear mind are the subject of the verb and as they are plural the verb has to be plural: are rather than is.

Careful planning and a clear mind is important for writing a good essay. (Incorrect)

Careful planning and a clear mind are important for writing a good essay. (Correct)

You need to be careful in situations where the subject is a list of things, the last of which is a singular item. In such cases, the whole list of different items forms the subject and therefore needs a plural verb

Warships, yachts, dinghies and a huge aircraft carrier is out on the harbour. (Incorrect)

Warships, yachts, dinghies and a huge aircraft carrier are out on the harbour. (Correct)

.

Singular subject plural verb.

The subject in this sentence is 'Tim's collection', which is singular. It therefore needs a singular verb: 'was' rather than 'were'.

Tim's collection of bottles was fantastic. (Correct)

Tim's collection of bottles were fantastic. (Incorrect)

Problems are particularly likely to occur with collective nouns such as a herd of, a collection of, a group of, a flock of, etc. All these are singular.

In this example, the subject is 'a small group of birds', which is singular (even though there are lots of birds) and needs a singular verb: was.

A small group of birds were flying across the midnight sea. (Incorrect)

A small group of birds was flying across the midnight sea. (Correct)

An enormous herd of zebras was thundering towards us. (Correct)

An enormous herd of zebras were thundering towards us. (Incorrect)

Take care with 'each', which is also singular and therefore needs a singular verb.

Each of these bottles are cracked. (Incorrect)

Each of these bottles is cracked. (Correct)

You also need to watch out when other phrases are added between the subject and its verb.

In this sentence the subject is my best friend, which is singular and so needs a singular verb 'is moving' rather than 'are moving'.

My best friend, along with all his family and pets, is moving to Australia. (Correct)

My best friend, along with all his family and pets, are moving to Australia. (Incorrect)

My best friend, all his family and pets, are moving to Australia. (Correct)

Either and neither can also cause problems. They are both singular and need a singular verb.

Neither of you is going to the cinema this evening. (Correct)

Neither of you are going to the cinema this evening. (Incorrect)

Either Spain or Portugal seems like a good place for a holiday. (Correct)

Either Spain or Portugal seem like a good place for a holiday. (Incorrect)

It seems that none can be treated as either singular or plural.

None of my friends speak German. (Correct)

None of my friends speaks German. (Correct)

None of the bottles was cracked. (Correct)

None of the bottles were cracked. (Correct)

Test your understanding of verb/subject agreements with this exercise.