This article continues the series on subject-verb agreement. If you are reading this, you may like to refresh your understanding of the topic by reading Part I, here.
So, to continue…
More than one subject
Sometimes there is more than one subject in a sentence. Consequently, there are special rules to follow to deal with this.
The rule: Use the plural form of the verb when two subjects are joined by and.
In this sentence there are three subjects.
Colleges, high schools, and universities prepare students for employment.
When two (or more) subjects are joined by or or nor, the verb agrees with the subject that is closest to it.
The directors or the CEO decides how the company will develop.
(Although ‘directors’ is plural, ‘CEO’ is singular, and because ‘CEO’ is closest to the verb, a singular verb form is used.)
Neither the photographer nor his assistants take part in the final design.
As well as and along with
These phrases are not the same as and. They do not form a compound subject. The real or actual subject is before the interrupting expression.
Compare these two sentences that clearly explain the difference.
India, China, South Korea, and Japan develop high-tech computer equipment. (plural verb)
China, as well as India, South Korea, and Japan, develops high-tech computer equipment.
Special Subject Forms
Some subjects are not so easy to identify as plural or singular. Indefinite pronouns and collective nouns are two such types.
Let us look at each type in turn. First, collective nouns.
Collective nouns refer to a group of things or people. Here are some common examples.
Usually, each group acts as a single unit, so you must use the singular form of the verb.
The crowd is roaring.
The team is playing well.
The government is sitting in parliament this week.
An army marches on its stomach, they say.
‘Police’, however, is plural because the word ‘officers’ is implied but not stated.
The police have surrounded the building where the gunman is holed up.
The second type of special subject forms is indefinite pronouns. (Note that ‘type’ is singular, so requires a singular form of the verb – is.)
Indefinite pronouns refer to a general person, thing, or place.
Take a close look at this table.
Table of Indefinite Pronouns
Singular another each nobody other
anybody everybody no one somebody
anyone everyone nothing someone
anything everything one something
Plural few, many, others, several, both
Singular Indefinite Pronouns
In the following sentences, because the subjects are singular, the verbs require the third-person-singular form.
Almost everybody knows the American president.
One or more singular nouns (joined by and) can be placed after each and every.
Every student likes the new course. Each girl and boy enjoys doing it.
Plural Indefinite Pronouns
As you can see from the table above, few, many, others, several, and both are all plural subjects.
The verb is always plural.
A diplomat from Australia and another from Indonesia are sitting at the same table. Both want a satisfactory conclusion to the trade dispute.
In this article I have explained, with examples, the rules that apply to subject-verb agreement when there is more than one subject, as well as special subject forms that involve indefinite pronouns and collective nouns.
I hope you have found this article instructive and that you have learned something to improve your writing and speaking in English.
In the final article on this topic, I will introduce and explain two more subject-verb agreement forms.
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