SVA or Subject Verb Agreement is a very important concept in English grammar.  Many of the entrance exams (CAT, CLAT, GMAT, GRE, IELTS, TOEFL, BANK PO, NDA ) test students students on the rules based on subject verb agreement. Even after they are done, written aptitude tests / WAT (taken after you clear CAT by most top B-schools these days) will test your writing skills and mettle. Hence, SVA is one touchy topic where you do not want to go wrong! It makes all the more sense to brush up what you so happily left behind in school! This blogpost will give you ALL that you need to know about English grammar rules for subject verb agreement and how to use them when the questions appear in your entrance exams.

So what is Subject Verb Agreement?

It is nothing but making the verb agree with the subject. You need to use the right version of the verb to make the agreement look good.

For e.g. there are different versions of the verb ‘be’ – am, is, are which are used differently if you use ‘he/she, they, you, we’. If you are a book worm, you probably get these very easily. But it never hurts to know your grammar rules!

1. Verb-number agreement

Singular subjects take singular verbs and plural subjects take plural verbs.

The list of to-dos was too long for me to handle.
The lists of to-dos were too long for me to handle.

Even an animal has its own territory.
Even animals have their own territory.

EXCEPTION to this rule:

A plural verb is always required after ‘YOU’ even when it is used in singular, referring to one person. For e.g:

You were going to send over the document.

2. Rule for when verb has ‘s’ at the end

The ‘s’ added after a noun indicates plural. But an ‘s’ after a verb indicates THIRD PERSON SINGULAR i.e. the sentence is in third person and the subject is singular. For e.g:

She goes to the library every single day.
They go to the restaurant every day for their favorite dish.

3.  The verb has to agree only with the true, main subject. Not with the intervening plural object of a preposition or any other intervening plural.

The box of Nestle’s chocolates is missing.

Here, the main subject is box, not chocolates. Hence, we use ‘is’ instead of ‘are’.

More examples:

His experience as a teacher to young kids gives him a lot of understanding.
The prices of the new iphone vary from country to country.

4. Subjects joined by ‘AND’ are usually plural and take plural verbs.

His laptop and my ipad were stolen from the desk.
Chennai and Kolkata have very hot weather.

EXCEPTIONS to this rule:

  • If the subject has two singular nouns connected by AND; and both are about the same person / thing, then the verb remains singular.

My best friend and roommate is going to US for a vacation.
Soup and bread is our Sunday breakfast.

  • When two subjects connected by AND are preceded by ‘each, every or many’, a singular verb is used.

Every chair, table and sofa, every single piece of furniture in the house is up for auction.
Every man and woman in the store is requested to go through the security check.

 

5. Rule for ‘with, together with, along with, besides, as well as, including, in addition to’

Words like ‘with, together with, along with, besides, as well as, including, in addition to, etc. do not affect the number of the verb. If the main subject is singular, the verb has to be singular; if the subject is plural, the verb has to be plural.

The television, along with the cabinet, is to be sold.
Our chief competitor, as well as ourselves, is obliged to increase the prices.
The decoration of the room, including all the paintings on the walls, is most pleasing.

6. Rule when both singular and plural subjects are present.

If the subject is made up of both singular and plural words connected by or, nor, either – or, neither – nor, not only, but also then the verb agrees with the nearer part of the subject.

Neither the quality nor the prices have changed.
Neither the prices nor the quality has changed.

Neither the salesman nor the buyers are in favor of the system of management.
Neither the buyers nor the salesman is in favor if the system of the management.

7. Rule for neither-nor, either-or & or

If the subject consists of two singular words connected by ‘or, neither- nor, either – or’, the subject is singular and requires a singular verb.

Neither the laptop nor the phone was in working order.
Either January or February is going to be her wedding month.

8. Rule for nouns that are plural in form but singular in meaning

Nouns that are plural in form but singular in meaning such as news, measles, mumps, physics, electronics, tactics, economics and so on usually take singular verbs.

News is traveling faster than ever before.
Physics has fascinated my hostel mate for months.

Some nouns ending in ‘-ics’ such as athletics, statistic and politics are considered singular when referring to an organized body of knowledge and plural when referring to individual facts, qualities or activities.

Athletics provide good recreation. (i.e. various games)
Economics is an important subject for every field of study.

9.  A linking verb usually agrees with its subject, not with its compliment.

Excessive absences were the reason for his failure.
The reason of his failure was excessive absences.

10. Rule for nouns that do not have singular forms

Plural verbs are required for many nouns that have  no singular form, such as proceeds, goods, ashes, remains, credentials, premises etc.

The proceeds of the magic show are to be given to the fund for soldier’s welfare.
The goods are being dispatched today by goods train.

SUBJECT VERB AGREEMENT FOR COLLECTIVE NOUNS

collective nouns
(Image source: Pinterest)

What are collective nouns?

A collective noun is a word that represents a group of persons, animals or things. For e.g. audience, committee, company, council, army, police, society, board, department, cabinet etc. the following rules govern the form of verb to be used with a collective noun.

1. When a group acts as a unit, the verb should be singular.

The committee has agreed to submit its report on Friday.
The board of directors meets once in a month.
The firm is one of the most reputed in the country.
The majority has made its decision.

 2. When the members of the group are thought of as acting separately, the verb should be plural.

The teams are arguing over who should be the captain (individual members in the team are arguing).
The committee were not in agreement on the action to be taken.
The audience were cheering and laughing, even crying.

3. Company names may be either singular or plural, according to their meaning. The plural form emphasizes the individual personnel making up the company.

Mudra and corporation have retained the goodwill of their customers.
The oil corporation is located at Nariman Point, Mumbai.

4. Rule for nouns expressing time, money or quantity

When nouns expressing periods of time, amounts of money or quantities are considered as a singular unit, singular verbs are used. For e.g.

Rs 10 seems too much for the job.
3 months is too long a time to wait.
The number of board members is very small.
That Rs 1 lakh was an inheritance from my father.
Yes, 5m is ample for a suit.

5. After such expressions as ‘one half of’, ‘two-thirds of’, ‘a part of’, ‘a majority of’

  • Use a singular verb if a singular noun follows the ‘of’.

A part of the office is closed.
Two-third of the mailing list has been typed.
A majority of 3500 indicates his popularity in the constituency.

  • Use a plural verb when a plural noun follows the’ of’.

Part of the walls are to be painted.
Two thirds of our workers live in the suburbs.
The majority of our staff members live in villages.

6. Rules for ‘The number’

The expression ‘the number’ has a singular meaning and requires a singular verb, whereas the expression ‘a number’ has a plural meaning and takes a plural verb.

The number of board members is very small.
A number of board members were absent.
The number of orders is still to be executed is estimated at nearly a 100.
A number of our staff are going on leave.

7. In sentences containing the words ‘one of’, the verb is chosen as follows:

  • In simple form, one of or one of the, a singular verb is used.

One of the reasons for his demotion is his carelessness.
One of the pens is missing from my desk.

  • The sentences containing phrases ‘one of those who’ or ‘one of the things that’, a plural verb is required.

He is one of those managers who favor increasing the staff.

Here favor agrees with those. In the phrase one of those who, those is the plural object of the preposition of. In the subordinate clause who favor, the relative pronoun who is the subject and must agree with its antecedent those.

Mr. Verma is one of our officers who is accompanying me.
He is one of our employees who are always alert.

However, when only precedes one of / one of those, a singular verb is used.

Ramesh is only one of our employees who is always alert.
Mr Verma is the only one of our officers accompanying me.

8. Rule of singular nouns and plural verbs

Certain collective nouns, those who are singular in form, are always used in the plural sense and take a plural verb. For e.g. gentry, cattle, poultry, alphabets, offspring etc.

These poultry are ready for sale.
There are 26 alphabets in English.
The cattle are grazing near the canal.

9. The always singular nouns

Certain nouns are always used in singular and followed by singular verbs. These are not used in the plural sense and do not take on plural verbs.  For e.g. hair, issue, advice, information, scenery, luggage, mischief, bread, abuse, furniture, land, business, machinery, poultry etc. (Detailed discussion right after examples)

Her hair has turned grey now.
The scenery of Kasauli is beautiful.
Is there any information in this regard?
All the machinery is old.
I have sold all the furniture that was useless.
My luggage is lying at the bus stand.

A small session on countable and uncountable nouns can really help clear this confusion of singular / plural.

COUNTABLE Vs UNCOUNTABLE

(Image courtesy: Juice Queen)

Countable Nouns: These are the names of objects, people etc. that we can count, e.g. book, pen, apple, boy, sister, doctor, horse.

Uncountable nouns: These are the names of things, which we cannot count, e.g., milk, oil, sugar, gold, and honesty. They mainly denote substances and abstract things.

E.g. Nature (uncountable)

NOTE:

  • Countable nouns have plural forms and can be used with a/an.
    Uncountable nouns do not have plural forms and cannot be used with a/an.

For  e.g. we say books but we do not say “milks”.

  • The following nouns are usually uncountable in English:Advice, news, information, furniture, luggage work, business, weather, traffic, scenery, paper, and bread. Most of these are countable in Indian languages and therefore Indian students often wrongly use them with ‘a/an’ and in the plural.

             EXAMPLE :

He gave me an advice. (Incorrect) (ek se kya hoga??)
He gave me some advice (correct) (or,  a piece of advice)

The sceneries here are very good. (Incorrect)
The scenery here is very good. (Correct)

10. Each, every, either, neither

The words ‘each, every, either, neither’, used as pronouns or else adjectives, are always singular and require singular verbs.

Each of them does have political ambitions.
Each employee is responsible for clearing is desk in the evening.
Neither of the boys is eligible for taking the examination.
Neither boy is eligible for selection.

EXCEPTION : If a parenthetical each follows a plural noun or pronoun, the verb should be singular.

The members each feel their responsibility.
They each have their own problem.
10 each of these books is required.

11. All, any, many ….

All, any, more, most, some – may be singular or plural depending on the meaning, and take verbs accordingly.

Some of the books seem too old.
Some of the food is not good. (food is a singular noun)
All the typing has been finished. (typing is an activity. Can’t be plural)
All the reports have been typed.
Most of the goods have been sold.
Most of the stock has been sold, but more of these shirts are due. (stock is always singular)

12. The titles of books or magazines are considered singular and take singular verbs.

The Hindustan times still has wide circulation.
The Shiva Trilogy is a best seller.

13. The always singular words which take singular verbs

The following words and their compounds are always singular and requires a singular verb.

Body (anybody, everybody, nobody, somebody)
Thing (anything, everything, nothing, something)
One (anyone, everyone, no one, someone)

Something is wrong with him these days.
Everybody in the office has tickets.
Everyone is required to clear their dues.
Nobody knows the trouble I have seen.
No one is entitled to have his debts cancelled.

14. Rules for relative pronouns

A relative pronoun  is one which establishes a relationship between two subjects (who, which, that). When it is used as a subject, it takes a singular or plural verb to accord with its antecedent i.e. if the subject is singular, use a singular verb and so on.

Measles is among the diseases that are curable.
This is only one of the local papers that print a weekly horoscope.

A small test for you.

Directions to solve Questions 1 to 10: Correct the sentences using appropriate countable/ Uncountable Nouns.

  1. The shops were offering a great discount on shirt and trouser
  2. We went to very expensive restaurant last night.
  3. Nora doesn’t usually wear jewellery but yesterday she wore bangle.
  4. Vivek has got to attend seminar tomorrow.
  5. We didn’t do very much shopping yesterday.
  6. We had nice day today.
  7. It was good suggestion.
  8. I’m optimist.
  9. How often do you visit dentist?
  10. Colombo is capital of Sri Lanka.

 

SOLUTION:

1. The shops were offering a great discount on shirts and trousers
2. We went to a very expensive restaurant last night.
3. Nora doesn’t usually wear collect but yesterday she wore a bangle.
4. Vivek has got to attend a seminar tomorrow.
5. We didn’t do much shopping yesterday.
6. We had a nice day today.
7. It was a good suggestion.
8. I’m an optimist.(aap ek hi hain)
9. How often do you visit the dentist?(importance de bhai “the” lagaake…daant thik karenge aapka)
10. Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka.(importance again)

So how many did you get right? Don’t worry. It will come with practice and good reading. Just keep at it. If you are done with the 50 shades of subject verb agreement (I know I know!), I have much more in store for you. And if you are liking these posts, here’s a whole bunch of them for you to become like an English grammar ninja for your competitive entrance exams.

The English section of these exams, the grammar for CAT, GRE, GMAT, IELTS, TOEFL, Bank PO, NDA and many other entrance exams are no biggie. They are very much doable, should you practice a little everyday. Religiously. I will tell you how to prepare for the Grammar section of these exams, if you can give me a commitment of practice and smart approach.! These examples and sample English questions will not only help you practice but also give you a notorious confidence about acing them as well! Don’t forget to visit the website if you need some inspiration before you kick-start this mission!

If you are looking for more tips, tricks and keys to understand more grammar concepts, you may check out the following links:

Don’t worry. It is just a language 🙂

Akash Gautam

Credits- Source for Grammar Rules – 1) Wren & Martin and 2) Thorpe (Objective English, Pearson Education)

 

 

About Author

Akash Gautam is a Motivational Speaker & Corporate Trainer in India. Hundreds of Top Corporates like Google, CIPLA, Vodafone, McKinsey & Co., Maruti, HDFC, RIL, M&M & premier colleges like IIMs, IITs, SRCC etc go to him whenever they need a refreshing, big bang impact. Write to usWrite to us to know how he can transform your Team.

  • Aakriti

    I have my CAT tomorrow and a quick read at these rules was of much help! Thankyou sir ! U rock 😀

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