Sentence Agreement: Walk This Way

Walk This Way

Now you know the main rules of agreement, so the rest of this business must be a piece of cake. Not so fast. Follow these three steps to check whether subjects and verbs in your sentences really agree:

  1. Find the sentence's subject.
  2. Figure out if the subject is singular or plural.
  3. Select the appropriate verb form to match the form of the subject.
Quoth the Maven

The words there or here at the beginning of a sentence often signal inverted word order.

Here's where the problems occur:

  1. Figuring out what is the subject.
  2. Figuring out if the subject is singular or plural.
  3. Selecting the appropriate verb form to match the form of the subject.

Let's look at each step in the process.

Strictly Speaking

Remember that a predicate nominative is a noun or pronoun that follows a linking verb. It renames or identifies the subject.

Hide and Seek

Some subjects can be harder to find than Judge Crater, Bigfoot, or Jimmy Hoffa. Foremost among these hard-to-find subjects is the subject that has the nerve to come after the verb. Inverted word order can make it difficult to find the true subject. But wherever the subject is, it still must agree in number with its verb, as these examples show:

Danger, Will Robinson

Most measurements are singular—even though they look plural. For example: “Half a dollar is more than enough” (not “are more than enough”) or “Ten inches is more than enough” (not “are more than enough”).

  • On the top of the hill are two Elvis impersonators.
  • The plural subject impersonators agrees with the plural verb are.
  • There are still several agitators in the audience.
  • The plural subject agitators requires the plural verb are.

Another tricky agreement situation occurs with linking verbs. As with all other verbs, a linking verb always agrees with its subject. Problems crop up when the subject and the linking verb (the predicate nominative) are not the same number. For example, the subject can be plural but the linking verb can be singular. Here's an example:

  • Speeding trucks are one reason for the abundance of fresh produce in our grocery stores.
  • The plural subject trucks agrees with the plural verb are. Don't be tricked by the singular predicate nominative reason.
  • One reason for the abundance of fresh produce in our grocery stores is speeding trucks.
  • Here, the singular subject reason agrees with the singular verb is. Here, the plural noun trucks is the predicate nominative.

Playing the Numbers

As you learned in the beginning of this section, in grammar, number refers to the two forms of a word: singular (one) or plural (more than one). With nouns, number is relatively easy to figure out. That's because most nouns form the plural by adding -s or -es. Here are some examples.

Singular NounsPlural Nouns
stock reportstock reports
interest rateinterest rates

You learned the few exceptions in Parts of Speech (deer, oxen, men, women, feet, and so on). There are more tricky plural words listed in Guide to Spelling: Hooked on Phonics.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match

Forget everything you learned about nouns when you start dealing with verbs. That's because we add -s or -es to the third-person singular form of most verbs. This is opposite to the way we form singular nouns. For example:

Singular VerbsPlural Verbs
1st and 2nd Person3rd Person1st, 2nd, 3rd Person
I starthe startswe start
I dohe doeswe do

The helping verbs are even nastier because they aren't regular. The following chart shows the forms of to be.

Singular Be VerbsPlural Be Verbs
(I) am(we) are
(he, she, it) is(they) are
(I, he, she, it) was(we, they) were
(he, she, it) has been(they) have been

As a result, subject-verb agreement is most tricky in the present tense.

Mix and Match

You know the drill, so sharpen your pencils and get crackin' with the following 10 items. In each case, choose the verb that agrees with the subject.

  1. There (is/are) a method to this madness.
  2. The hostess trilled: “The Bengels (are/is) here!”
  3. One reason for her success (was/were) her sunny personality.
  4. The many mistakes made by the tour guide in giving directions (was/were) the reason we fired her.
  5. (Does/Do) fig trees grow in this region?
  6. (Is/Are) some the pie still in the refrigerator?
  7. (Here's/Here are) more freeloaders for the open-house.
  8. There (was/were) two good reasons for his decision.
  9. Another example of Juan's fine leadership (is/are) the excellent roads.
  10. Here (is/are) two gifts I'd especially like to receive: a wheelbarrow filled with cash and a diamond as big as the Ritz.
1. is5. Do9. is
2. are6. Is10. are
3. was7. Here are
4. were8. were
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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