September 19, 2014

Agreement: Singular or Plural Subject? It Depends

When the parts of a compound subject are joined by or, but, either … or, neither … nor, not only … but also the verb must agree with the subject nearest to the verb.

  • Neither the Oregon players nor the coach was overconfident.

“Coach” is closest to the verb so the verb agrees with “coach.”

  • Neither the Oregon coach nor the players were intimidated by Arizona.

Just the reverse here. “Players” is closest.

Collective nouns and certain plural words may take singular or plural verbs-depending on the meaning in the sentence.

TEST: If the word indicates people or things working together as an identifiable unit, a singular verb is used.

  • The jury was seated at 9 a.m.

“It” was seated.

  • The jury were being interviewed by the media.

The subjects are the individual members of the jury; the sentence could be rewritten as: “The jurors were … “)

  • Politics is a hot topic.

Politics as a single topic.

  • The mayor’s politics are offensive.

Politics in this case can be seen as several actions over time.

The pronouns ANY, NONE or SOME and the nouns ALL and MOST:

1) take singular verbs when they refer to a unit or quantity

  • Some of the money was missing.

An amount of money.

2) take plural verbs when they refer to number or individuals

  • Some of the gold coins were missing.

A number of coins.

The pronoun NONE:

1) takes a singular verb when its meaning is “No Single One” or “Not One”

  • None of the gold coins was missing.

Not one of the coins

2) takes a plural verb when its meaning is “No Two” or “No Amount”

  • None of the goods were missing.

no amount of the goods

  • None of the forests were destroyed.

no amount of the forests

When the subject is a fraction or a word such as HALF, PART, PLENTY or REST, its intended number is suggested by the object of the preposition that follows it.

  • Three-fourths of the enemy’s army is wounded.
  • Three-fourths of the enemy’s soldiers are wounded.

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Comments

  1. simple but good!!

  2. Simple, but good? Maybe for you, but for me it’s a bit too complicated. I doubt I’ll remember all this. Personally, I wish the rules for Subject/Verb agreements were a tad bit simpler than it already is.

  3. I have scoured the web and cannot find anything that addresses the verb agreement rules when “and/or” is used between 2 subjects, which is very common in business correspondence and agreements, and in many cases, necessary. It’s almost as if all the “correct grammar” websites purposely avoid this question; however, on your Subject Verb Agreement page (http://www.grammaruntied.com/agreement/agreement.html) you use the sentence: “The first step is often made difficult by phrases and/or sentence structure that work to obscure the true subject.” This sentence does not represent a simple subject/verb agreement issue, but the phrase is close enough to illustrate my dilemma. How did you determine that “work” should be singular or plural? I am familiar with the rule where the verb takes on the tense for the closest subject, when “or” is used, for example, which the above sentence structure did not follow, but read easily anyway. But … when “and/or” separates the subjects and both or one of the subjects is singular, then what is the correct tense for the following verb??

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