Types of agreement:

subject verb agreement

singular plural agreement

reference agreement

nouns--non-count, complex, indefinite


Word or item





Most verbs (*except BE which is a special case) require agreement of the third person singular in the present tense; the third person singular form ends in s.

The other persons (first, second, and third plural) all take the simple form of the verb (in the present tense).

* The verb BE has its own forms (see end of document)

Sally runs every day.


Compound subjects


Subjects joined by and are nearly always plural


Exception: If the parts of the subject are considered a unit, you may treat the subject as singular.


Ben and Nicholas like to play soccer.

Crackers and cheese is my favorite snack.



If the subjects are joined by or or nor, then the verb agrees with the part of the subject nearer to the verb.

 Subjects joined by or require a singular verb if the items are singular. However, in informal speech, the plural verb is often used.


If the subject includes singular and plural items, the verb agrees with the item closest to the verb.


Neither the Smiths nor Aaron is coming to the party.


Anne or Alex takes care of delivering the cakes.

Anne or Alex take care of delivering the cakes.

 George or his sons are going to fix the computer problem.


Complex subject

Sometimes the subject of the sentence is modified with a prepositional phrase. Be careful to use the true subject (not the modifier) in choosing the form of the verb.

The people at my school seem very intelligent. (The verb agrees with people, not school.)

The success of her teammates matters a lot to Emily.



Certain phrases, usually written within commas, do not make the subject plural.


Mary Nell, as well as her sons, has studied Spanish for many years.


Noun clauses

A noun clause subject requires a singular verb.


How many fish there are doesn't matter. What kind they are is important.


Relative clauses

Relative pronouns can refer to singular or plural noun; the verb must agree with the noun


We are studying sentences that are complex. (The relative pronoun that refers to a plural noun.)

He is reading a book that is very complicated. (The relative pronoun refers to a singular noun.)


Collective nouns

Collective nouns may take either a singular or plural verb depending on the meaning.


Sigurd's soccer team is going to the state tournament. (= the team as a whole)

Sigurd's soccer team all have the flu. (= the individual team members)




Fractions and percentages

Fractions and percentages take the singular when they modify a mass noun and the plural when they modify a plural noun; either the singular or the plural may be used when they modify a collective noun.


Fifty percent of those children have psychological problems.

One-half of the cake has been eaten.


Plural unit words of distance



Plural unit words of distance, money, and time. take a singular verb





300 miles is a long ways to go on a bicycle. (distance)

Two hundred dollars seems a lot to spend on a dress. (money)

Fifteen years is a long time to spend in jail. (time)

Indefinite pronouns


Even though some indefinite pronouns (anybody, anyone, each, either, everybody, everyone, everything, neither, none, no one, somebody, someone, something) seem to have plural meanings, treat them as singular in formal English.

Exception: Indefinite pronouns that express quantity (all, any, some, none) may be singular or plural depending on the noun they refer to.


Everyone in the class wants to read Romeo and Juliet. No one wants to read King Lear.

All of the students have identical suitcases.

All of the information provided was out of date.



one of

If the indefinite pronoun one is followed by an of phrase, the noun will be plural.

She is one of my best friends.

Hakan was one of the most cooperative students I ever had.

Possessive pronouns

Possessive pronouns referring to indefinite pronouns are generally written in the masculine singular.

However, in spoken language, their is frequently used.


Everyone is bringing his own lunch.


 Everyone should have their own copy of the book.


a lot of

lots of

There is not much difference between a lot of and lots of: they are both used mainly before singular uncountable and plural nouns, and before pronouns. It is the subject, and not the form lot/lots, that makes a following verb singular or plural. So when a lot of is used before a plural subject, the verb is plural; when lots of is used before a singular subject, the verb is singular.**

A lot of time is needed to learn a language.

Lots of patience is needed, too.

Lots of children prefer McDonalds to Burger King.

A large amount of

A great deal of

A (large) number of

The number of

These are used in similar ways to a lot of and lots of, but are more formal.

A large amount of and a great deal of are generally used with uncountable nouns.

A (large) number of is used before a plural noun and requires a plural verb.

The number of is followed by a plural noun and requires a singular verb.

I've thrown out a large amount of old clothing.



A large number of problems still have to be solved.

A number of people come to the festival every year.

The number of people who eat liver pate is actually quite small.

There is/there are


When using these structures, the verb agrees with the noun following it.




However in informal English, there's is possible with a compound or plural subject.


There are many people in my class from Thailand.

There is an interesting statue of a troll under Aurora Bridge.

There are a gun and a knife in his bag.

There's a gun and a knife in her bag.

?There's a lot of weeds in my garden.




Singular Plural Agreement


Nouns need to agree in number with the words that refer to them

  • numbers
  • demonstrative determiners (see below)
  • many



five bananas, 21 years

these keys, that book

many apples

Reference Agreement


Subject pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, and possessive pronouns all need to agree in gender and number with the word(s) they refer to

















Non-count noun agreement


Non-count nouns are treated as grammatically singular

This information isn't correct.



**from Michael Swan's Practical English Usage



* BE Verb


present tense

past tense






1st person

I am

we are

I was

we were

2nd person

you are

you are

you were

you were

3rd person

he/she/it is

they are

he/she/it was

they were