The General Rule

The subject of a sentence should always agree with its verb in number and person. It can help to think of it this way:

When the subject does NOT end in the letter “s,” the verb usually will. If the subject does end in the letter “s,” the verb will NOT. 

In other words: Add an “s” to the verb if the subject is third-person singular (he, she, it, Martha, Sam, etc.). Do not add an “s” if the subject is plural.

  • Example: The family cat loves to be around the newborn baby. (Add “s”)
  • Example: The family cats love to be around the newborn baby.  (Don’t add “s”)

However, the General Rule does not apply all the time. Refer to the following Top 7 Tips if you get stuck.

Top 7 Tips

  1. Subjects that are joined by “and”
    Two subjects that are joined by “and” usually take plural verbs. The word “and” connects the two subjects, making them plural. Therefore, do not add “s” to the verb.
    • Example: Rock climbing and step aerobics are my favorite cardio exercises 
  2. Subjects that are joined by “neither…nor” and “either…or”
    When two subjects are joined by these words, the subject is one or the other. This means the subject is still singular. The verb agrees with the subject closest to it.
    • Example: Neither the teacher nor the students want to eliminate the school’s recycling program.
    • Example: Neither the students nor the teacher wants to eliminate the school’s recycling program.
  3. Singular nouns ending in “s” that are not plural
    Some nouns that end in “s” are singular subjects: physics, economics, news, athletics. Use a singular verb.
    • Example: Physics was Dustin’s favorite subject in high school.
  4. Collective nouns
    Use a singular verb with a collective noun, such as team, family, class, union, army, committee. 
    • Example: My family loves to go bowling every weekend.
  5. Words that come in between subject and verb
    The words that come in between the subject and verb should not affect subject-verb agreement.
    • Example: The new condos on Euclid Avenue, along with the work lofts, are for sale.
  6. Reversed word order
    Typically, the verb follows the subject in a sentence. When the order is reversed, identify the subject so that you know what verb to use.
    • Example: Down the list reads the hiring manager. 
      • Hint: Start by finding the action: “reads.” Then ask who does that to locate the subject: “the hiring manager.” Think of it as, “The hiring manager reads down the list.” This will help you check subject-verb agreement.)
  7. Titles of works, organizations, and businesses
    Even if the titles and names are plural in form, use a singular verb.
    • Example: The Whole Foods Market chain specializes in natural products and organic produce.