Subject-Verb Agreement

Learning Objectives

  • Identify and use verbs to match the subject of a sentence

Tense Agreement

Two speech bubbles, one blank and one with a thumbs up.

Figure 1. When double checking for tense agreement, ask yourself, “Who (or what) is doing the action of the verb?”.

The basic idea behind sentence agreement is pretty simple: all the parts of your sentence should match (or agree). Verbs need to agree with their subjects in number (singular or plural) and in person (first, second, or third). In order to check agreement, you simply need to find the verb and ask who or what is doing the action of that verb. For example:

  • I really am (first-person singular) vs. We really are (first-person plural)
  • The boy sings (third-person singular) vs. The boys sing (third-person plural)

Compound subjects are plural, and their verbs should agree. Look at the following sentence for an example:

A pencil, a backpack, and a notebook were issued to each student.

Verbs will never agree with nouns that are in phrases. To make verbs agree with their subjects, follow this example:

The direction of the three plays is the focus of my talk.

The subject of “my talk” is the direction, not plays, so the verb should be singular.

In the English language, verbs usually come after subjects. But when this order is reversed, the writer must make the verb agree with the subject, not with a noun that happens to precede it. For example:

Beside the house stand sheds filled with tools.

The subject is sheds; it is plural, so the verb must be stand.

Try It

Work through these slides to learn a few tips that will help you always get correct subject-verb agreement.

Consistency

One of the most common grammatical mistakes in writing is a lack of tense consistency. Writers often start a sentence in one tense but ended up in another. Look back at that sentence. Do you see the error? The first verb start is in the present tense, but ended is in the past tense. The correct version of the sentence would be “Writers often start a sentence in one tense but end up in another.”

These mistakes often occur when writers change their minds halfway through writing the sentence, or when they come back and make changes but only end up changing half the sentence. It is very important to maintain a consistent tense, not just in a sentence but across paragraphs and pages. Decide if something happened, is happening, or will happen and then stick with that choice.

Try It

Read through the following paragraphs. Can you spot the errors in tense? Type your corrected passage in the text frame below:

A climber on a mountain peak.

If you want to pick up a new outdoor activity, hiking is a great option to consider. It’s a sport that is suited for a beginner or an expert—it just depended on the difficulty of hikes you choose. However, even the earliest beginners can complete difficult hikes if they pace themselves and were physically fit.

Not only is hiking an easy activity to pick up, it also will have some great payoffs. As you walked through canyons and climbed up mountains, you can see things that you wouldn’t otherwise. The views are breathtaking, and you will get a great opportunity to meditate on the world and your role in it. The summit of a mountain is unlike any other place in the world.

Try It

Try It

Check your understanding of subject-verb agreement in the following interactive.

Contribute!

Did you have an idea for improving this content? We’d love your input.

Improve this pageLearn More