Singular and Plural Verb Agreement: What Every Copy Editor Needs to Know

As a copy editor, you understand the importance of precise language. One area where precision is particularly crucial is in verb agreement. In English, verbs must agree with their subjects in number, meaning that singular subjects take singular verbs and plural subjects take plural verbs. Let`s take a closer look at this concept and how it applies to your writing.

Singular Verb Agreement

When a subject is singular, a singular verb is needed. For example:

– She runs every day.

– The bird sings sweetly.

– The teacher lectures on grammar.

In each of these sentences, the subject (she, bird, teacher) is singular, so the verb (runs, sings, lectures) is also singular. It`s important to note that this rule applies even when the subject is a collective noun (a noun that refers to a group of individuals, such as team or herd). In that case, the verb is still singular, as in:

– The team is practicing for the big game.

– The herd moves slowly across the plains.

Plural Verb Agreement

When a subject is plural, a plural verb is needed. For example:

– They run every day.

– The birds sing sweetly.

– The teachers lecture on grammar.

In each of these sentences, the subject (they, birds, teachers) is plural, so the verb (run, sing, lecture) is also plural. It`s important to note that some subjects may appear singular but are actually plural, such as:

– My family are all coming for Thanksgiving.

In this sentence, the subject is family, which is singular but refers to multiple people. Therefore, the verb should be plural (are coming).

Subject-Verb Agreement with Compound Subjects

Compound subjects are made up of two or more individual subjects that are joined by and, or, or nor. For compound subjects joined by and, the verb should be plural, as in:

– Janie and David are going to the movies.

For compound subjects joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the subject closest to it, as in:

– Neither the cat nor the dog likes carrots.

– Either the kids or their parents are responsible for the mess.

Special Cases

There are a few special cases to keep in mind when it comes to subject-verb agreement. For example:

– Indefinite pronouns like everyone, somebody, and each take singular verbs, as in: Everyone is welcome to attend.

– Titles of books, movies, and other works that end in a plural noun take singular verbs, as in: The Three Musketeers is a classic novel.


In summary, ensuring subject-verb agreement is essential for clear and effective writing. Singular subjects require singular verbs, and plural subjects require plural verbs. Compound subjects and special cases require additional attention to ensure that the verb agrees with the subject. By mastering this fundamental concept, you can help ensure that your writing is polished and grammatically sound.