Mastering Subject-Verb Agreement in British English

British English subject-verb agreement

Mastering the rules of Subject-Verb Agreement is an essential aspect of becoming proficient in English, representing one of the cornerstones of grammatical accuracy. The intricacies found within English grammar, such as the inflectional endings in verbs, the understanding of singular and plural forms, and the notion of subjects agreeing with verbs in a sentence, all demonstrate the depth required to achieve expertise in the language. Venturing into the realm of special cases adds more complexity and intrigue, as collective nouns, quantities, indefinite pronouns, interrupting phrases, and compound subjects often deviate from traditional rules. Nevertheless, this journey of exploration will be accompanied by practical application and exercises, providing tangible examples to solidify your grasp of subject-verb agreement.

Understanding the Basics of Subject-Verb Agreement

Grasping the Basics of Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-Verb Agreement refers to the grammatical necessity of ensuring your subjects and verbs agree in number. This translates into making sure that singular subjects have singular verbs, and plural subjects have plural verbs.

Understanding Singular and Plural Forms

The key to mastering subject-verb agreement lies in understanding singular and plural forms. A singular subject refers to only one, such as ‘the cat’ or ‘John’, whereas a plural subject refers to more than one, like ‘cats’ or ‘they’.

In English, the verbs change according to whether they refer to a singular or plural subject. Typically, for many verbs in the present tense, an ‘s’ is added to the end of the verb for singular subjects, and omitted for plural subjects. For example, in the sentence ‘The dog barks’, the subject ‘dog’ is singular, and so the verb ‘barks’ ends with an ‘s’. However, if we make the subject plural to ‘dogs’, the sentence becomes ‘The dogs bark’, without an ‘s’ at the end of the verb.

The Inflectional Ending in Verbs

The inflectional ending refers to the changes made to the end of the verb to denote the tense and agreement with the subject. In present tense, add an ‘s’ or ‘es’ to the base form of the verb when the subject is a singular noun or pronoun (he, she, it). For example, ‘he eats’, ‘it changes’. In contrast, if the subject is a plural noun or pronoun (they, we), or singular (you, I), the base form of the verb is used without an ‘s’ or ‘es’. For instance, ‘they eat’, ‘we change’.

However, there are exceptions. With verbs like ‘has’, ‘does’ and ‘is’, which are already in their inflected form, you use ‘have’, ‘do’, and ‘are’ when dealing with ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘we’, and ‘they’. For example: ‘I have’, ‘you do’, ‘we are’.

Familiarising Yourself with the Concept of Subjects and Verbs

To ensure correct subject-verb agreement, it’s important to be able to identify the subject and verb in a sentence. The subject typically comes before the verb in a sentence and refers to who or what is performing the action. For example, in the sentence ‘John eats an apple’, ‘John’ is the subject and ‘eats’ is the verb.

Being able to identify the subject and verb of a sentence is the preliminary step in ensuring that they agree in number. However, pay close attention when there are phrases and clauses between the subject and the verb, as they may mislead you. Always remember, the verb agrees with the subject, not with a noun in a phrase or clause between the subject and the verb.

Consistent practice and application of these rules in your written and spoken English will help in perfecting your understanding and mastery of subject-verb agreement.

Image illustrating subject-verb agreement concept and rules for visually impaired individuals.

Special Cases in Subject-Verb Agreement

Collective Nouns and Their Agreement

One special case in subject-verb agreement revolves around collective nouns, which describe a group of people or things, such as ‘team’, ‘family’, ‘group’, or ‘committee’. In British English, collective nouns can take either singular or plural verbs depending on the context. If you are viewing the group as a single entity, a singular verb is appropriate. For example, “The team is winning the game.” However, if you’re emphasising the individuals within the group, use a plural verb: “The team are wearing their new uniforms.”

Quantity Expressions and Verb Agreement

Expressions of quantity or measurements like ‘half of’, ‘a percentage of’, ‘a portion of’, and so on, can be singular or plural based on what they refer to. If the noun after the expression is singular, a singular verb is needed – “Half of the cake is missing.” If the noun is plural, the verb should be plural – “Half of the cakes are missing.”

Indefinite Pronouns and Verb Agreement

Indefinite pronouns such as ‘everyone’, ‘everything’, ‘nobody’, ‘someone’, can be tricky as they are singular and require singular verbs even though they seem to be referring to more than one person or thing. For example, “Everyone is invited to the party.”

Interrupting Phrases

Sometimes, phrases interrupt the subject and the verb, creating potential confusion. Remember that the verb should always agree with the subject, not with a noun or pronoun in the phrase. For example, “The tallest of the trees is a hundred feet high.” Here, ‘trees’ does not affect the agreement.

Compound Subjects

In compound subjects, where more than one subject is connected by ‘and’, use a plural verb. For example, “John and Sarah are attending the meeting.” However, when subjects are connected by ‘or’ or ‘nor’, the verb should agree with the subject closer to it: “Either my brothers or my father is coming to the concert.”

In all cases, understanding the context and the intended meaning of the sentence is essential to get the subject-verb agreement right. Always remember, the verb must agree with its subject, regardless of other elements in the sentence.

Illustration showing a writing board with the words 'subject-verb agreement' written on it.

Practical Application and Exercises

Understanding the Basics of Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb agreement refers to the principle that subjects and verbs must agree in number. This means that if the subject is singular, the verb must also be singular, and if the subject is plural, the verb must be plural. For example, in the sentence “The cat is playing with a ball”, the singular subject “cat” agrees with the singular verb “is”.

This principle holds true regardless of the complexity of the sentence. In compound sentences – where two or more subjects are connected by the words ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘neither/nor’, or ‘either/or’ – the verb must agree with the subject closest to it. For example, “Neither the cat nor the dogs are hungry”.

Practical Application of Subject-Verb Agreement

Practising subject-verb agreement helps to improve your sentence construction and overall writing skills. Here’s a simple exercise: write a paragraph about your daily routine, ensuring that your subjects and verbs agree throughout. Pay special attention to sentences where the subject comes after the verb, or where there’s more than one subject.

For example, “My day begins early. The alarm sounds at six, and then I start my routine. Neither the noise of the city nor the bright street lights bother me. My books, pen and paper lie on my desk; they are my best companions for studying.”

Understanding Subject-Verb Agreement in Real-Life Examples

Real-life examples are a great way to reinforce your understanding of subject-verb agreement. Consider this sentence: “The list of available courses are displayed on the college website.” The singular subject “list” should agree with a singular verb “is”, making the correct sentence: “The list of available courses is displayed on the college website.”

Then there’s this common mistake in informal English: “There’s a few things I want to discuss.” The correct subject-verb agreement would be: “There are a few things I want to discuss.”

Exercises for Subject-Verb Agreement

Test your knowledge with these exercises. Write down your answers before checking them against the correct options provided.

  1. [The cat/The cats] _______ (like/likes) chasing its/their tail(s).
  2. Everyone [takes/take] their seats when the professor [walks/walk] into the room.


  1. The cat likes chasing its tail; The cats like chasing their tails.
  2. Everyone takes their seats when the professor walks into the room.

Remember, constant practice is the key to mastering subject-verb agreement. Stay vigilant for common mistakes and keep at it!

An image showing a checklist with a pen and paper, representing the concept of subject-verb agreement.

Review and Revision

Understanding Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb agreement is a grammar rule that stipulates that the subject of your sentence should agree with its verb in number. If the subject is singular, the verb should also be singular, and if the subject is plural, so should the verb be. This might seem straightforward, but it can become complex, particularly with collective nouns, indefinite pronouns, compound subjects, and exceptions to the rule. Regularly reviewing principles and special cases can make these complexities more comprehensible.

Characterising the Singular and Plural Subjects

Characterise singular subjects as they take singular verbs, and understand that plural subjects take plural verbs. Singular subjects are usually easy to identify. They are individual entities, such as ‘John,’ ‘The cat,’ or ‘A book.’ Plural subjects consist of more than one entity, such as ‘The boys,’ ‘Cats,’ or ‘Books.’

Identifying Collective Nouns

Learn to identify collective nouns as they refer to a group as a single entity. Many collective nouns can be singular or plural, depending on whether they are considered as a unit or individuals. For example, ‘The team is winning.’ versus ‘The team are arguing amongst themselves.’

Implementing Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns can be a bit trickier as some are always singular (each, anyone, anybody, anything, either, neither, none, one, and no one) and some are always plural (both, few, several, and many). Some can be either, depending on their context in the sentence (all, any, none, some, and such).

Recognising Compound Subjects

Compound subjects, joined by ‘and,’ usually require a plural verb. For example, ‘Jane and Tim are studying.’ However, if the parts of the compound subject are considered as one, then it’s singular. For example, ‘Fish and chips is my favourite meal.’

Approaching Exceptions

Exception cases can still lead to mistakes, even though you have mastered all general rules and most special cases. Some words seem plural but are indeed singular, and vice versa. For example, ‘Economics is a complex subject,’ and ‘The police are investigating the crime scene.’

Comparing British and American English

The use of subject-verb agreement can differ between British and American English, especially concerning collective nouns. In American English, collective nouns usually take a singular verb, while in British English, they can take either a singular or a plural verb, depending on whether the collective is being thought of as a single unit or as a collection of individuals.

Using Assistance Tools

There are numerous online tools that can facilitate your review and revision process. Grammar and spell-checking tools like Grammarly and Hemingway Editor can help identify subject-verb disagreement in your writing and offer suggestions for correction. Grammar books and online tutorials are also beneficial for thorough explanations and exercises.

Image depicting a person writing on a blackboard with the words 'Subject-Verb Agreement'

Moreover, it’s vital that your understanding of subject-verb agreement rules remains continually refreshed and honed. By dedicating time to regular review and revision, the principles and special cases of this important grammatical building block will become firmly embedded in your memory. Remember that language mastery is a voyage, not a destination, as there is always something new and challenging to learn or a pre-existing skill that could use refinement. Dedicate your energies to truly understanding, applying, and revising the rules of subject-verb agreement, and you’ll see the positive impact within your English communication skills.

Writio is an incredible AI content writer for your website or blog. This article was crafted by Writio, the ultimate writing companion.

British English subject-verb agreement

British English subject-verb agreement

%d bloggers like this: