Mistakes in subject-verb agreement are very noticeable in written English. People tend to overlook mistakes in spoken, conversational English. But in writing, subject-verb agreement errors really jump out at the reader. So it’s a good idea to check important pieces of writing for subject-verb agreement errors.
The good news is that subject-verb agreement is based on rules that you can learn. Here is a short overview of how subject-verb agreement works in the most common type of English sentences (declaritive).
Fortunately, person/number agreement only happens in present tenses. There is only one past tense exception: the verb “to be,” (was/were).
List of tenses that need subject-verb agreement
- present simple (am/is/are and all other verbs are either base form or -s form)
- past simple (only the verb to be was/were. Other verbs are the same for all persons)
- present perfect (have/has +V-ed all you have to worry about is getting the has/have correct)
- present continuous (am/is/are + V-ing. All you have to worry about is getting the am/is/are correct)
- past continuous (was/were + V-ing. All you have to worry about is getting was/were correct)
- present perfect continuous (has/have + been + V-ing. All you have to worry about is getting the have/has correct)
Checking subject-verb agreement in English sentences
First, find the finite verb.
Most English sentences have a subject and a finite verb. That is the verb that has to agree with the subject. Finite verbs also change (inflect) to show tense.
If a sentence has only one verb, then it is a finite verb.
My Maserati does 185.
He wants to hold your hand.
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes.
If a finite verb clause has more than one verb, then the finite verb comes first, and gets marked for person, tense, and number.
Subject-verb number agreement
The rule here is pretty simple: singular subjects take singular verbs. Plural subjects take plural verbs.
What’s tricky is identifying the subject of the sentence, and then deciding if it is singular or plural. It’s not always obvious. We’ll look at some difficult cases later, but first let’s look at some easy examples. …