Basic Noun-Verb Agreement

Nouns and verbs need to agree on number. They will be either singular or plural.


The following sentences do not make sense because the nouns and their verbs do not agree in number:

  • John and Mary is a couple.
  • John are an auto mechanic who earn more than $67,000 per year.
  • Mary are a farmer; she have a little lamb farm and get a good tax deduction.


Sentences do make sense when their verbs agree with their nouns in number:

  • John and Mary are a couple.
  • John is an advertising copywriter who earns more than $67,000 per year.
  • Mary has a little lamb farm and gets a good deduction from the government, so her family doesn't get fleeced on taxes.

These are the basic rules for noun-verb agreement:

1. The number of the noun (singular or plural) determines the form of the verb.


Plural: Some readers consider Kohlberg's theory of moral development problematic because he only examines ways of thinking and not how emotions and gender socialization affect moral development.

Singular: Carol Gilligan, in her book entitled "In a Different Voice," challenges the premise of Kohlberg's theory.

2. There may be more than one noun-verb pair in a sentence; you need to make sure that each pair agrees in number.

Example: Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book "On Death and Dying," outlines the stages of dying, and she illustrates that both the terminally ill person and the person's loved ones experience these stages.

3. The way the verb agrees with the noun depends on whether the verb is regular or irregular. The agreement conventions for regular verbs and agreement conventions for irregular verbs are different.  

4. Some nouns and pronouns seem to be plural but function as "trick singular" nouns, so there must be correct verb agreement with "trick singular" nouns and pronouns. An example of this is "everybody," a singular noun which refers to a group, but must agree with a singular verb, i.e. "Everybody is happy."

5. Verbs do not have to agree with words that come between (interrupt) the noun and the verb. An example of this is, "The highest percentage of voters is in favor;" where the verb, "is," agrees with the noun "percentage," the subject of the sentence, and not with "voters."

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