As you edit for grammar, you’ll be more successful if you try not to look for everything simultaneously. In the next two sections, you’ll focus on subject-verb agreement. A big part of grammar is matching up the subject with the verb. Subjects and verbs must agree in number. Singular subjects need singular verbs; plural subjects require plural verbs. In the present tense, singular verbs end in the suffix -s or -es; plural verbs do not.

photo of a sign that reads “Gillman Station, Customer Parking ONLY! All others will towed at the vehicle owners risk and expense!”

Source: Proofread, People! Jeff Youngstrom, Flickr

A giraffe stands proudly.

photo of a sign that reads “Gillman Station, Customer Parking ONLY! All others will towed at the vehicle owners risk and expense!”

Source: Proofread, People! Jeff Youngstrom, Flickr

Three giraffes stand proudly.

When the subject and verb follow closely, your “grammar phone” might suffice for editing, but when you write more complex sentence structures, agreement between the subject and verb requires closer attention. For example, when two singular nouns are joined by “and,“ the subject is plural and requires a plural verb.

The adolescent giraffe and his mother stand proudly.

However, when two singular nouns are joined by “or,” the subject is singular and requires a singular verb.

Either the adolescent giraffe or his mother stands still.

Subject-verb agreement gets a little trickier when indefinite pronouns are the subjects. When you use the pronouns he or she, you’re referring to a specific person. It also refers to a specific thing. When you use an indefinite pronoun, though, you’re referring to a nonspecific person, place, or thing, i.e., “Somebody should do something.”

Review the following information about indefinite pronouns:

 

Indefinite Pronouns
SingularPluralSingular or Plural
another both all
anyone few any
each many more
everyone others most
everybody several none
everything   some
much    
nobody    
nothing    
other    
someone    
anybody    
anything    
either    
one    
neither    
no one    
somebody    
something    

photo of a sign that reads “Gillman Station, Customer Parking ONLY! All others will towed at the vehicle owners risk and expense!”

Source: Proofread, People! Jeff Youngstrom, Flickr

That both and several are plural makes sense, but it’s more difficult to grasp that everyone, everybody, and everything are singular until you test one with your “grammar phone.”

Which would you say?

Everybody are going to the zoo.
Everybody is going to the zoo.

What about the group of indefinite pronouns that includes all, any, more, most, none, and some, which can be singular and plural? How do you decide what verb to use? You make your decision based on the antecedent. If the antecedent is plural, the verb will be plural. If the antecedent is singular, the verb will be singular.

Let’s look at some examples.

None of the tourists want to visit the giraffes.

None of the meal was left uneaten by the baby giraffe.



icon for an interactive exercise

Continue practicing with these items. Refer back to the “Indefinite Pronoun” chart as needed. For each sentence below, choose the correct verb. Click in the appropriate box to record your answer.

  1. Many of the students ______ after school.

  2. a. work
    Correct! Many is plural and requires a plural verb.


    b. works
    Try Again.



  3. Each of the vocalists _____ the high notes.

  4. a. hit
    Try Again.


    b. hits
    Correct! Each is singular and requires a singular verb.



  5. Both of the girls _____ pierced ears.

  6. a. has
    Try Again.


    b. have
    Correct! Both is plural and requires a plural verb.



  7. Either Sam or Abe _____ the giraffe food on the truck.

  8. a. load
    Try Again.


    b. loads
    Correct! Either is singular. Two subjects joined with or require a singular verb.



  9. Everything ______ in your final grade.

  10. a. count
    Try Again.


    b. counts
    Correct! Everything is a singular pronoun and requires a singular verb.