Subject Verb Agreement
Subjects of a Verb
So what exactly is a verb?
Verb is defined as that part of speech of any sentence that describes action or a state of being. In other words, every word that does show action or represents a state of being is a verb. (Read this sentence again and focus on the highlighted words. Are they verbs?)
In any sentence, the part that performs the action (of the verb) or whose state of being is explained by the verb is the subject. In most of the sentences, the subject is mentioned and can be easily identified.
Subject-Verb agreement remains the most popular topic of Subjects and Objects. The form of the verb of a sentence is primarily influenced by three factors: number, person and tense. In the article on pronouns, we’ve already studied the implementation of the verb with respect to a change in person of the pronoun. In this section, we extend that discussion to all examples.
At the end of this section, the reader should be able to:
- Identify the verb of the sentence, and accordingly determine the subject and the object (if it exists)
- Understand the concept of subject-verb agreement, and apply it to various examples
General definitions and examples
Subject of a sentence:
- We begin understanding the concept of a subject.
- You are expected to answer practice problems on subject-verb agreement.
- Amardeep has difficulty recognizing transitive and intransitive verbs.
- You and I have to keep completing the assignments on time.
- The manager and the client got into a heated argument.
As mentioned earlier, the subject of the sentence is the part that performs the verb. It can be a pronoun (examples 1 and 2), a proper noun (example 3), or two pronouns or nouns linked by a conjunction (examples 4 and 5).
The subject of a sentence can be recognized by asking the question ‘Who?’ Look at the examples above. Upon closer inspection, if we ask the question ‘Who is the verb/sentence talking about?’ the answer would be the highlighted part of each example.
Agreement by Person between the Subject & Verb
While nouns are generally in the third person, pronouns can be of all three persons. Thus we now discuss the agreement between a subject and verb depending on the person of the subject.
First Person Pronouns
When the subject is in the first person, both singular and plural root, present participle and past participle forms of the verb are identical. Examples include:
- I consider your application for the post of software consultant. (root form)
- We consider your application for the post of software consultant. (root form)
- I presented you the terms of our agreement. (past participle form)
- We presented you the terms of our agreement. (past participle form)
- I will be expecting your compliance soon. (present participle form)
- We will be expecting your compliance soon. (present participle form)
The auxiliary verb ‘am’, ‘was’ is used with the singular form wherever required, while ‘are’, ‘were’ is used with the plural form. Both forms use the auxiliary ‘have’.
- I am bringing the backup drive now.
- We are bringing the backup drive now.
- I was supposed to be with him.
- We were supposed to be with him.
- I have brought all the attachments.
- We have brought all the attachments.
Second Person Pronouns
Second person pronouns are the same in both singular and plural forms and thus will be taking the same form irrespective of number. Also only plural forms of the auxiliary verb are used wherever required.
- You do whatever needs to be done.
- You are manipulating the records.
- You have always remained a disgrace to the force.
Third Person Pronouns
When the subject is in the third person, both singular and plural, present participle and past participle forms of the verb are identical. However, the root form is slightly altered for the singular form. Examples include:
- He considers your application for the post of software consultant. (root form)
- They consider your application for the post of software consultant. (root form)
- She presented you the terms of our agreement. (past participle form)
- They presented you the terms of our agreement. (past participle form)
- He will be expecting your compliance soon. (present participle form)
- They will be expecting your compliance soon. (present participle form)
The auxiliary verb ‘is’, ‘was’ is used with the singular form wherever required, while ‘are’, ‘were’ is used with the plural form. The singular forms use the auxiliary ‘has’ while the plural uses the auxiliary ‘have’.
- He is bringing the backup drive now.
- They are bringing the backup drive now.
- She was supposed to be with him.
- They were supposed to be with him.
- She has brought all the attachments.
- They have brought all the attachments.
In the next section, we study Subject-Verb agreement by number.
Agreement by Number between the Subject & Verb
Subject-Verb agreement is based on the principle that in every sentence, the subject noun or pronoun has to agree in numbers with the verb of the sentence. So when the subjects transition from singular (one) to plural (many), the form of the verb changes, and we discuss that through examples, for better understanding of the readers:
- He sweeps the bat but is beaten by the bounce.
- They all sweep the bat but are beaten by the bounce.
- The woman ends the fight and settles
- The women end the fight and settle
The form of the primary verb used in the sentence is directly influenced by the subject. The usage is similar to the application of a verb after a pronoun, and the readers are expected to know the singular and plural as well as the first, second and third person forms of the verbs used.
However, for some tenses like the simple past tense, the form is the same.
- The woman ended the fight and settled
- The women ended the fight and settled
Auxiliary verbs are helping verbs that assist in linking the subject with the verb itself. With the change in number, here’s how they get influenced:
- My senior has referred me to a marketing job at Venice.
- My seniors have referred me to a marketing job at Venice.
The first auxiliary verbs like has, have, etc. changes with the nature of the subject. The second auxiliary verbs however, do not.
- I could have scored big if you hadn’t been adjudged out unfairly.
- We could have scored big if you hadn’t been adjudged out unfairly.
Moreover, some other first auxiliary verbs remain unchanged w.r.t. the subject.
- He might win this contest if he keeps this up.
- They might win this contest if they keep this up.
It is very important for us to individually understand the behaviour of each of the auxiliary verbs, which is expected while learning Verb as a part of speech.
Compound subjects are the ones linked by a conjunction. Let us take a previous example:
- You and I have to complete the assignments on time.
In this example, and is a conjunction linking two subject nouns you and I. Thus the phrase is what we call a compound subject. Determining whether these subjects are plural or singular is an important part of subject verb agreement. Let us take a different variation of the above example:
- Rajeev or Sheetal has to complete the rest of the assignment.
In the first example, the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘I’ were linked by the conjunction ‘and’ and thus the verb and the sentence was talking about both the subjects simultaneously. Hence the subject is plural and the verb form used will be plural. In the second example, the conjunction ‘or’ causes the verb to talk about only one of Rajeev and Sheetal at a time, and hence the subject remains singular. Let us introduce another change:
- The students or their parents have to complete the assignment.
The conjunction ‘or’ here links two different plural nouns, so even if only one of the nouns is addressed at a time, the subject is plural.
Hence we have to be extremely careful while adjusting the verb forms for such cases. The approach remains the same. Just ask ‘What is the number of subjects addressed by the verb in an instant?’
Collective nouns remain the trickiest parts of subject-verb agreement, and therefore we’ve saved it here for the last. Let us begin with an example:
- The couple is expecting their first child by November.
- The couple are separating by the end of this November.
With no literal difference between the two examples, determining the singularity/plurality of collective nouns become difficult. So how do we approach it? Just like the previous case, we look towards the verb.
In the first example, the verb expect treats the collective noun as one unit. We can say that the participants of the collective noun couple approach the verb unanimously, which makes the noun singular. In the second example, the verb separate addresses the individual participants of the collective noun couple. Hence the noun is a sum of individual participants, making it plural.
Hence, subject-verb agreement is all about matching the verb form with the number, person and tense of subjects and the sentence. Various modifications of the verb is being done ensure agreement with the subject. We studied the agreement by person and number. In the article on tenses, we see the change in the verb form based on the tense.