Subject- Verb Agreement


The SUBJECT of an English sentence is one of the important subjects students should acquaint themselves with. The SUBJECT and the action or status word VERB of a sentence do have an inseparable bond between them. This bond, in technical parlance, is known as The Law of Concord. How to understand the concept of the subject, as per the syntax, is of significant importance in English grammar.

Let us examine how to decipher the subject of a sentence.

1)  In most of the English sentences the subject happens to be a simple noun-a single word.

e.g. 1. Smita is a girl. 

In this sentence Smita, the name of a girl, is the subject (a Proper noun) and is singular (=1) The verb should be written in the singular format and we find the primary auxiliary ‘is’ is singular in number (indicating whether referring to one item or person or to more than one) and is in agreement with the subject ‘Smita’. The verb ‘is’ indicates the status of the noun.

2)  Sometimes the subject may be a group of words In a sentence.

e.g. 2. One of the questions was difficult.

In this sentence which is projected as the subject?

Obviously, not all the questions. Only’ one’ of the questions. ‘One of the questions’ is the full subject of this sentence.The verb is in accordance with ‘one’, and not with ‘questions’.The subject ‘one of the questions’ tallies with the verb ‘was’. (both singular).

3)  Sometimes a singular and plural verb are joined by the correlatives ‘neither’ and ‘nor’. In this case the verb will be in agreement with the nearer subject. This concept is understood as per English syntax as The Law of proximity. How to remember this? ‘Neither’ follows Neighbour Rule!

e.g. 3. Neither  the watchman nor the residents know about the matter.


The verb ‘know’ is plural and agrees with the neighbour noun ‘residents’ in the sentence,

which is also plural. The noun ‘watchman’ is understood to be the ‘remote’ noun with reference to the verb ‘know’.

4) ‘None’, ‘no one’ and ‘neither’ when projected as the subject, are treated as singular in English even though they indicate to zero person or thing.

e.g. 4. Neither of the two is seen.

  1. None was aware of the problem.
  2. No one is interested in the subject.

5) An understood or hidden subject may also be inherently there in a sentence. In this case the verb will agree with that hidden subject only and not with the other nouns that may have been shown explicitly.

e.g.  7. Mark the answer at the appropriate space.

Here the subject is not shown openly or explicitly.

The subject is to be identified as per the context. This imperative sentence is addressed to the students in general and evidently the understood or hidden subject is ‘students’ or ‘examinees’. Therefore the verb ‘mark’ agrees with ‘students’-both plural in number.

6) The use of ‘and’ – the conjunction -joining two nouns makes the subject group plural in most of the cases.

e.g. 8. Physics and Chemistry are two important branches of science.

In this sentence the singular nouns Physics and Chemistry are joined by ‘and’ and this noun group is plural. Obviously the subject group is plural.The verb ‘are’ is in agreement.

Whenever ‘and’ indicates an idiomatic or a unified subject, the subject group, however, remains singular.

e.g. 9. Idly and sambar is a good combination.

e.g. 10. The sum and substance of his speech (the gist) is one of criticism.

7) When ‘or’ is used in a sentence, the nouns are identified individually. The verb is written  as per proximity.

e.g. 11. The servant or the watchman is the culprit.

The use of ‘or’ segregates the nouns. As ‘servant’ and ‘watchman’ are singular individually, the verb is written in singular format.

e.g. 12. The bottle or its contents are to be checked.

The verb ‘are’ is in agreement with the proximate plural noun ‘contents’.

8) ‘Anybody’, ‘everybody’ and ‘each’ are mostly identified as singular in number.

e.g. 13. Each of the poems is enchanting in style.

e.g. 14. Anybody is allowed to answer.

e.g. 15. Everybody is responsible for the launch of the new project.

In all the above sentences the verb remains singular.

9) In some of the difficult patterns of sentences the number of the verb is identified by the context.

e.g. 16. The focus of his arguments was said to be on lack of infrastructure.


The subject is ‘focus’ (of his arguments) and not arguments themselves. Since ‘focus’ is singular, the  verb ‘was’ is in accordance.

e.g. 17. The point that he wanted to drive into the minds of the students was the management of time in the IBPS examination.

The word ‘point’ (meaning the management of time)is the focused or the real subject and not the other noun ‘students’.

10) Infinitives are also used as subjects in a few of the sentences as shown below.

E.g. 18. To learn good manners is a matter of necessity.

In this sentence ‘to learn good manners’ is the subject in singular format and is followed by the singular verb ‘is’.