Subject-verb agreement means that the verb (the doing or being that is taking place in your sentence) matches the singularity or plurality of the topic of your sentence, the person or thing doing whatever it is they’re doing (or being whatever it is they’re being). If that sounds complicated, let me explain by way of examples.
“Juan is thin.” Juan is one person, and “is” is correct, whereas “are” is not. “Juan are thin” is incorrect.
“Jacqulon and Barbara raise dogs” is correct, whereas “Jacqulon and Barbara raises dogs” is incorrect.
With short sentences, subject-verb agreement errors are not that common. It’s when a writer gets into longer sentences, such as those with multiple clauses or prepositional phrases, that these errors become more likely.
Prepositional phrases do not affect subject-verb agreement
Prepositional phrases throw a lot of people for a loop, but they don’t need to affect you. Find the prepositional phrase in the sentence. Mentally delete it and then make sure that the subject and verb agree. The word “each” is singular; it’s just one person, place, thing, or idea. You would say that one is talented, not “one are talented.”
“Each of the girls is talented” is correct. “Each of the girls are talented” is incorrect, even though “girls” is plural. The word “girls” is not the subject of the sentence, “each” is.
“None of the cats eats candy.” Again, “cats” is not the subject; “none” is and that’s the word that must agree with the verb.
Some people find it helpful to add the word “individual” mentally after the word “each” whenever it occurs. “Each (individual) is…” Here are some other words that are always singular:
- Everyone (every one)
- Anyone (any one)
When you see these words, you’ll remember that the verb must be singular as well.
Most people know that it’s wrong when the subject and verb don’t agree. This kind of mistake is common, however, and I see it often in works I edit. People might say it just doesn’t sound right when a subject is singular and the verb is plural (though “sounding right” isn’t a good measure of whether or not it’s right, because some errors are so common now that we hear them so much they “sound right” even though they are wrong).
Why do people make mistakes with subject-verb agreement?
Many people don’t know or remember that prepositional phrases do not determine subject-verb agreement. Aside from that, I think it happens because of oversight rather than ignorance of the rule. When a writer begins writing a sentence, then goes back and changes part of it, she might forget to change the verb to agree with the new subject.
Another reason a writer might make this mistake involves compound subjects. When there are two or more nouns/pronouns as the subject of the sentence, such as “Impatience and inattention contribute to accidents.”
We’ve all seen mistakes like this in printed material, and I think at least 75% of the time, making one change and forgetting to make the other is the reason. Just keep an eye out for it in your work. Here are some links to other sources that might help you further.
Subject-verb agreement This is a long post, and you’ll want to scroll down about halfway down the page to find the subject-verb agreement part.
This one is an online exercise where you make the subject and verb agree. This is great for students, anyone who wants to brush up, and anyone who wants to see how well they do with making subjects and verbs agree.