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Grammar Guides - ENG002: Subjects and Verbs

This guide is to help students with common grammar problems.

Subject Verb Agreement (Verb agrees with the Number of Subjects)

The subject and the verb of a sentence must agree in number. When in doubt, break down the sentence to identify the subject (who or what is the sentence about?). In the following examples, the subject is in italics, and the verb is in bold italics:

  • The kittens and the dogs play every day.
  • The focus of the Youtube video was to show how to make popsicles.
  • Each of the flavors was very refreshing.
  • The weatherperson on the radio shops at the farmer's market on Saturdays.
  • Strategies for picking a topic include Googling for current events or hot topics.

Regular and Irregular Verbs

picture of a dog with tears tear tore torn

Questions on Conjugation (How to change verbs to match the subject)

For help conjugating (changing verbs to match the subject), there are many online resources that can help, including, which conjugate verbs in all tenses. 

When thinking about verbs, there are regular verbs and irregular verbs. Irregular verbs don't follow the typical rules of verbs. 

For regular verbs, just add "s" to Singular Verbs

Generally, when using singular third-person nouns and pronouns, all you have to do is add an "s".

For example:

  • Singular Regular Verb: Mary bakes cookies.  

For regular verbs, you just drop the "s" with Plural Verbs

In many instances, the reverse goes for plural nouns and pronouns. When it comes to plural nouns, you drop the "s".

For example:cookies

  • Plural Regular Verb: Mary and John bake cookies.



For irregular verbs, add "-es" to singular irregular Verbs

In the case of irregular verbs, you sometimes add -es to the base form of the verb.

For example:

  • He always catches the ball. (Not catchs)
  • He goes to Africa once a year. (Not gos)

Compare this to the plural forms where the -es is dropped:

  • They always catch the ball.

Change "-y" to "i" and Add "-es"

Also in the case of some verbs, you have to change a -y ending to an -i, and then add an -es to form the singular verb.

For example:

  • The student tries to earn a straight-A average. (Not trys)
  • He flies south for the winter. (Not flys)

Subjects and Verbs and Sentence Structure

Conjunctions (or, nor, and) and Subject-Verb Agreement

Subjects that include a conjunction are called compound subjects. The conjunctions affect the form of the verb.

(1) The word and adds things together and is generally the plural form.

● The girl and boy go to the park.

An exception to this rule occurs when the two nouns or pronouns are joined by and but are generally considered to be a unit.

● Macaroni and cheese is my favorite food. 

(2) When a compound subject has two singular nouns or pronouns joined by or or nor, the verb takes the singular form. This is because or and nor do not add things together. 

● The girl or the boy goes to the park.

Neither the teacher nor student was able to solve the equation.

(3) When a compound subject has both one singular and one plural noun or pronoun joined by or or nor, the verb is conjugated to match the number of the noun or pronoun closest to the verb.

● The girls or the boy goes to the park.

● The boy or the girls go to the park.

● Neither the teacher nor students were able to solve the equation.

● Neither the students nor teacher was able to solve the equation.

Modifying Phrases and Subject-Verb Agreement

Additional phrases can be between the sentence’s subject and verb. These phrases may add new information about the subject, but they do not change the subject’s plurality.

For example:

One of the parrots talks in its sleep. ○ Even though there are multiple parrots, you are talking about one in particular.

● The whole family, including their talking dog, sits down to dinner. ○ The subject family is singular so the verb is is correct.

family with dog at table

Collective Nouns and Subject-Verb Agreement

Collective nouns are nouns that include more than one person but are classified as singular. These include nouns like family, group, team, and squad. Think of these nouns as singular because they represent a unified group of people. For example:

● This squad boldly goes where no squad has gone before. ○ The subject is a unified group, so it follows the rules for collective nouns.

Indefinite pronouns are conjugated as singular. These include each, each one, either, neither, everyone, everybody, anybody, anyone, nobody, somebody, someone, and no one

Nobody knows the stray dog.

Everybody loves my brother.

No one hates puppies.

Exceptions Nouns that end in –s but refer to a single thing (e.g., civics, mathematics, news, or dollars) are conjugated as singular. 

Civics is an important subject in school.

Dollars has an exception to this rule. If you’re talking about a specific amount, then dollars is conjugated as singular, but when referring to dollars themselves, then dollars is plural. For example:

● Sarah has $1,000, which is a lot of money. (singular: a specific amount)

● U.S. dollars are the official currency of El Salvador. (plural: referring to dollars themselves)

For nouns that can be referred to as a pair, use the plural verb form. Words that fall into this category include words like scissors, pliers, tweezers, pants, jeans, and shears.

● These jeans are cheap and comfortable.

Verb Tenses - Present, Past, Future

The present tense is used to express anything that is happening now. The present also communicates actions that are ongoing, constant, or habitual.

For example:Person writing paper

  • I'm working on a paper for my psychology class.    
  • Joe loves jazz music.
  • I walk my dog three miles every morning.

Use the past tense to indicate events that have already taken place or have been completed. 

For example:

  • I read a book last week.
  • Ancient Romans believed basil was poisonous.
  • The house crumbled to ruin during the last tornado.

The future tense indicates actions or events that will happen in the future.

For example:

  • I will write my career paper this weekend.
  • I plan on going swimming at the lake tomorrow.