So far, we’ve looked at how verbs agree with each other in sentences (See Verb Tense, part 1 and part 2). But it’s important to remember that verbs also have to agree with their subjects. To level up your SHSAT game, dust up on your basic rules, and remember how to best revise for subject/verb agreement.
Rule 1: Subject Numbers
A sentence’s verb has to agree with the subject. That means that if there is only one subject, then the verb must agree with it in number. If there is more than one subject, the verb has to agree with it too. Here are correct forms:
One subject: The candle burns when it is lit.
More than one subject: The candles burn when they are lit.
In these examples, there are two verbs in each sentence. They agree with the number of subjects that the sentences describe, and with each other.
It might be confusing to hear that the verbs agree with the nouns when they have different endings. But, what we mean by ‘agreement’ is that they ‘correctly correspond’. So, when we have one noun—one subject—the verb will have an ‘s’ at the end. When we have more than one subject, the verb will not end in an ‘s’.
Rule 2: Pronouns and More than One Verb
Pronouns follow the same numbering system as subjects do—but sometimes we use pronouns together with other subjects and the results can be messy. Here are some reminders for you.
AND: if the sentence has more than two nouns or pronouns that are connect by the word “and”, you have more than one subject. You will need to use a verb that does not have an ‘s’ at the end. For example:
You and your family are doing everything you need to do to get into a special school.
If this example was just about ‘your family’, it would have to be written, “Your family is doing everything it needs to do to get you into a special school.” But the example isn’t just about one entity. It’s about two—you and your family. So, we have to use the plural verb. Here’s another example:
The students who are in art and the faculty who are in languages agree that more resources should be put into the liberal arts.
This example shows two groups connected by the and that also uses a plural verb, ‘agree’, that does not end in ‘s’.
MORE THAN ONE VERB: All of the verbs in the sentence need to agree with the subject. That means that if there is one subject with multiple verbs, all of the verbs will agree with the singular subject. Consider these examples:
Coding is taught in more high schools today than ever and is required in many early college high schools.
Undergraduate research encourages student belonging and motivates faculty to mentor students.
The first example describes two actions relating to coding (a single thing). The second describes the relationship between undergraduate research and two groups (students and faculty). The verbs in both agree with the subject and agree with each other.
The trick to subject/pronoun/verb agreement revisions is not to get bogged down in other details of the sentence. As long as the verb agrees with the subject, it does not matter where the verb and subject are located in the sentence. Here are some incorrect sentences:
X The cars which contain VTEC engines is few.
X The exam, as well as the examples, are hard to understand.
X The team with all of the superstars are going to take us to State!
X The aim of the sessions were to get good feedback from the spectators.
X Approaches that the director used to bring out more actor emotion involves individualized practice and character sketches.
When you revise these sentences, keep in mind that you need to have the subject and verb agree—regardless of where the subject is found in the sentence. Here’s how to revise the above sentences:
The cars which contain VTEC engines are few. (Cars is plural, so it takes a plural ‘to be’ verb.)
The exam, as well as the examples, is hard to understand. (This sentence’s subject is the exam, which is singular, so its verb is going to be the singular ‘to be’ verb.)
The team with all of the superstars is going to take us to State! (This sentence is about the team—which contains superstars—and ‘the team’ is a singular subject. It needs a singular ‘to be’ verb.)
The aim of the sessions was to get good feedback from the spectators. (Even though there are multiple sessions, there is only one aim of them. This sentence needs a singular verb.)
Approaches that the director used to bring out more actor emotion involve individualized practice and character sketches. (The director uses multiple approaches, which are plural, so require a verb without an ‘s’ at the end.)
One More Thing…
Some words are tricky because it can seem like they refer to more than one subject. In actuality, they are all singular, and so only pick out a single subject. These words all need to take on a singular verb:
nobody, no one (is)
someone, somebody (is)
each, each one (is)
anyone, anybody (is)
either, neither (is)
everyone, everybody (is)