Basic Principle: Singular subjects need singular verbs; plural subjects
need plural verbs. My brother is a
nutritionist. My sisters are
The indefinite pronouns anyone, everyone, someone, no one,
nobody are always singular and, therefore, require singular verbs.
- Everyone has done his or her homework.
- Somebody has left her purse.
Some indefinite pronouns such as all, some are
singular or plural depending on what they're referring to. (Is the thing
referred to countable or not?) Be careful choosing a verb to accompany such
- Some of the beads are missing.
- Some of the water is gone.
On the other hand, there is one indefinite pronoun,
none, that can be either singular or plural; it often doesn't matter
whether you use a singular or a plural verb unless something else in the
sentence determines its number. (Writers generally think of none as
meaning not any and will choose a plural verb, as in "None of the engines
are working," but when something else makes us regard none as meaning
not one, we want a singular verb, as in "None of the food is fresh.")
- None of you claims responsibility for
- None of you claim responsibility for
- None of the students have done their
homework. (In this last example, the word their precludes the use of
the singular verb.
Some indefinite pronouns are particularly troublesome
Everyone and everybody (listed above, also) certainly feel
like more than one person and, therefore, students are sometimes tempted to use
a plural verb with them. They are always singular, though. Each is often
followed by a prepositional phrase ending in a plural word (Each of the cars),
thus confusing the verb choice. Each, too, is always singular and
requires a singular verb.
Everyone has finished his or her
You would always say, "Everybody is here." This means
that the word is singular and nothing will change that.
Each of the students is
responsible for doing his or her work in the library.
Don't let the word "students" confuse you; the subject is
each and each is always singular Each is
Phrases such as together with, as well as, and along
with are not the same as and. The phrase introduced by as well
as or along with will modify the earlier word (mayor in this
case), but it does not compound the subjects (as the word and
- The mayor as well as his brothers is going to prison.
- The mayor and his brothers are
going to jail.
The pronouns neither and either are singular and
require singular verbs even though they seem to be referring, in a sense, to two
- Neither of the two traffic lights is
- Which shirt do you want for Christmas?
Either is fine with me.
In informal writing, neither and either
sometimes take a plural verb when these pronouns are followed by a prepositional
phrase beginning with of. This is particularly true of interrogative
constructions: "Have either of you two clowns read the assignment?"
"Are either of you taking this seriously?" Burchfield calls this "a clash
between notional and actual agreement."*
The conjunction or does not conjoin (as and
does): when nor or or is used the subject closer to the verb
determines the number of the verb. Whether the subject comes before or after the
verb doesn't matter; the proximity determines the number.
- Either my father or my brothers are
going to sell the house.
- Neither my brothers nor my father is
going to sell the house.
- Are either my brothers or my father
- Is either my father or my brothers
Because a sentence like "Neither my brothers nor my father
is going to sell the house" sounds peculiar, it is probably a good idea
to put the plural subject closer to the verb whenever that is possible.
The words there and here are never subjects.
- There are two reasons [plural subject]
- There is no reason for this.
- Here are two apples.
With these constructions (called expletive constructions), the
subject follows the verb but still determines the number of the verb.
Verbs in the present tense for third-person, singular subjects
(he, she, it and anything those words can stand for) have
s-endings. Other verbs do not add s-endings.
He loves and she loves and they love_ and . . . .
Sometimes modifiers will get betwen a subject and its verb,
but these modifiers must not confuse the agreement between the subject and its
The mayor, who has been convicted along
with his four brothers on four counts of various crimes but who also seems,
like a cat, to have several political lives, is finally going to jail.
Sometimes nouns take weird forms and can fool us into thinking
they're plural when they're really singular and vice-versa. Collective
Nouns for additional help. Words such as glasses, pants, pliers, and
scissors are regarded as plural (and require plural verbs) unless they're
preceded the phrase pair of (in which case the word pair becomes
- My glasses were on the bed.
- My pants were torn.
- A pair of plaid trousers is in the
Some words end in -s and appear to be plural but are
really singular and require singular verbs.
- The news from the front is bad.
- Measles is a dangerous disease for
On the other hand, some words ending in -s refer to a
single thing but are nonetheless plural and require a plural verb.
- My assets were wiped out in the
- The average worker's earnings have gone
- Our thanks go to the workers who
supported the union.
The names of sports teams that do not end in "s" will take a
plural verb: the Miami Heat have
, The Connecticut Sun are hoping that new talent
Fractional expressions such as half of, a part of, a
percentage of, a majority of are sometimes singular and sometimes plural,
depending on the meaning. (The same is true, of course, when all, any, more,
most and some act as subjects.) Sums and products of mathematical
processes are expressed as singular and require singular verbs. The expression
"more than one" (oddly enough) takes a singular verb: "More than one student
has tried this."
- Some of the voters are still angry.
- A large percentage of the older population is voting against her.
- Two-fifths of the troops were lost in
- Two-fifths of the vineyard was destroyed
- Forty percent of the students are in
favor of changing the policy.
- Forty percent of the student body is in
favor of changing the policy.
- Two and two is four.
- Four times four divided by two is
If your sentence compounds a positive and a negative subject
and one is plural, the other singular, the verb should agree with the positive
- The department members but not the chair have decided not to teach on Valentine's
- It is not the faculty members but the president who decides this issue.
- It was the speaker, not his ideas, that has
provoked the students to riot.