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Grammar Tutorial – Subject/Verb Agreement

In this Tutorial, I bring together a number of things we have learned about sentences. I have to do this because the subject and verb in a sentence have to ‘work together’. That’s what I mean with ‘subject/verb agreement’. So, how must they work together?
FIRST, there must be agreement in NUMBER between the subject (noun or pronoun) and the predicate (verb) of a sentence. For example:
  • When the subject is singular, the verb must also be singular.
–         I know the way to school. (subject ‘I’ is singular; verb ‘know ’is singular.)
–         You know the way to school. (subject ‘You’ is singular; verb ‘know’ is singular.)
–         She knows her way to school. (subject ‘She’ is singular; verb ‘knows ’is singular.)
  • When the subject is plural, the verb must be plural.
–         We go home for lunch most days. (subject ‘We’ is plural; verb ‘go’ is plural.)
–         You go to school on the bus”, said mother to her two children. (subject ‘you’ is plural; verb ‘go’ is plural.)
–         The boys go to school all year. (subject ‘boys’ is plural because ‘you’ refers to ‘two children’; verb ‘go’ is plural.)
Two more tips:
  • Watch out for prepositional phrases and clauses between the subject and the verb.
–         Bob, who has been my friend since high school, and Jim, his college friend, were delighted to see me graduate from college. [The compound subject, ‘Bob’ and ‘Jim’ are separated by a clause (who has been my friend since high school) and a phrase (his college friend) from the verb. This can lead the writer to forget that the sentence has two subjects and so use a singular verb (was) instead of the plural verb (were).]
  • Suggestion – If you have a problem with subject/verb agreement, try this strategy – circle the subject(s) and underline the verb … then make sure they match – singular subject with a singular verb and plural subject with a plural verb.
SECOND, there must be agreement in PERSON between the subject (noun or pronoun) and the predicate (verb) of a sentence. For example:
  • When the subject is in the first person, the verb must be in first person.
–         I know the way to school. (subject ‘I’ is first person singular; verb ‘know ’is first person singular.)
–         We go home for lunch most days. (subject ‘We’ is first person plural; verb ‘go’ is first person plural.)
  • When the subject is in the second person, the verb must be in second person.
–         You know the way to school. (subject ‘You’ is second person singular; verb ‘know ’is second person singular.)
–         “You go to school on the bus”, said mother to her two children. (subject ‘you’ is second person plural; verb ‘go’ is send person plural.)
  • When the subject is in the third person, the verb must be in third person.
–         The boys go to school all year. (subject ‘boys’ is third person plural; verb ‘go’ is third  person plural.)
–         The boys go to school all year. (subject ‘boys’ is third person plural; verb ‘go’ is third person plural.)
Of course, we must not forget that an action can take place in the present, the past or the future. In my examples above, I have written the sentences in the present. Remember this image of time:
                    
 Last night I was sad.     Today I am happy.   Tomorrow I will go to school.

 

 To refresh yourself on the use of tenses (present, past, future), review the Chart below or go to Lesson 3.
Verb ‘Be’
Present Tense
Past Tense
Future Tense
First Person singular
I am
I was
I will be
Second Person Singular
You are
You were
You will be
Third Person Singular
He/she/it is
He/she/it was
He/ she/it will be
First Person Plural
We are
We were
We shall be
Second Person Plural
You are
You were
You will be
Third Person Plural
They are
They were
They will be

 

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Try the following activities to find out how well you understand how to use subject/verb agreement:
After you have watched this Lesson, go to www.sponsoravillage.ca, for the NOTES, ASSIGNMENT and ANSWER KEY on SUBJECT/VERB AGGREEMENT.
Go to GRAMMAR in the top navigation bar, go to Verb; move over to SUBJECT/VERB AGREEMENT – click on it.
To send any questions you may have about grammar, go to www.sponsoravillage.ca and click on ASK Dr. OTTO. I will reply to your questions as quickly as possible.