English grammar, especially subject-verb agreement, can be confusing and often misleading for even the most seasoned creative writers. Many authors have professional editors and proofreaders go through their work with a fine-tooth comb (or red tip pen) before submitting their work for publication. Below you will find a list of subject-verb agreement rules which will help you avoid some common grammatical errors:
1. When the subject of a verb is singular, the verb should be expressed in its singular form.
2. When the subject of a verb is plural, the verb should be expressed in its plural form.
3. Use the singular verb form when the subject ends in -body, -one, -thing, or is preceded by each, every, many a, or one of.
Example: Has anyone heard from Bill? Each one of you is in trouble.
4. Use the plural verb form when the subject is preceded by both, many, few, several, or others.
Example: Several of the pizza ingredients are too spicy for me.
5. A plural verb is always required after you.
6. If the subject consists of two or more words that are connected by and or both…and, the subject is plural and requires a plural verb.
Example: George and Jack are going to the movies. Both the boys’ and girls’ rooms are being redecorated.
6a. Exception: When a singular subject is connected by the word “and,” use the singular verb.
Example: Macaroni and cheese is my dinner on Wednesday nights.
7. Use the singular verb form when the subject consists of two or more singular words that are connected by or, either…or, neither…nor, or not only…but also. If the subject consists of two or more plural words connected by the above words, a plural verb is required.
8. Intervening phrases and clauses should be ignored when determining agreement between a subject and verb.
Example: The bag of chips was ripped open.
9. A sentence with both a positive and negative subject should use a verb that agrees with the positive subject. The negative subject can be set apart with commas unless it’s preceded by and or but.
Example: Ballet, not tap, is her favorite dance.
10. These pronouns (all, most, more, none, some, or any) may have a singular or plural verb, depending on the phrase.
Example: Most of my story is completed. Most of my submissions were to poetry journals.
For more grammar tips, see our articles entitled How to (Not) Split Infinitives, Agreeing to Agree: Basic Pronoun Rules, Contraction Confusion, Punctuation and Quoted Material, and (for an interesting take on the evolution of the English language) The Purist Debate. Also, see our home page to learn how Writer’s Relief can format, proofread, and submit your poetry, short prose, or book for publication.