In this tutorial, you will learn how to do the following:



To begin, please review the following instructions:


Part I: Defining Subjects and Verbs

Part II: Agreement of Subjects and Verbs including the rule of one -s and the Five Rules of Agreement



Many students are often confused about subjects and verbs. When asked the questions, "what is the subject of this sentence," or "what is the verb" many students must search their memory of high school grammar lessons for the answer. Even then, students often don't remember what a subject and verb are.

A simple way of thinking about subjects and verbs is to compare a sentence to a recipe. Just like certain ingredients are necessary for a recipe to turn out successful, a sentence requires specific "ingredients" in order to even be considered a sentence.

A recipe for pancakes

calls for:

A recipe for a sentence

calls for:






complete thought



If you can"t make pancakes without these ingredients, why would you be able to make a sentence without a subject, verb, and a complete thought? 



So, what is a subject?

Well, to understand the term subject, you must first understand the term noun.

A noun is simply any person, place, or thing. For example, Sally, Joe, Paris, Italy, dog, and cat are all nouns.

jack hanna.jpg

Photo:  "Jack Hanna with Bird":

tower of pisa.jpg

Photo:  "Leaning Tower of Pisa – again":


Photo:  "Bug":

Simply stated, a subject is always a noun.


When thinking in terms of a sentence, the subject is the person, place, or thing you are talking about.

Or, think of it another way: the subject is the person, place, or thing doing the action of the sentence.

Examples (subject is underlined in each sentence):


The dog barked at the cat.


The dog is doing the barking - dog is the subject.

Marcus studies all night.

Marcus is doing the studying - Marcus is the subject.

Practice identifying the subject in the following self quiz.

 Toggle open/close quiz group


What is a verb?

A verb is the action of the sentence - it's what's happening.

Examples (verb is bolded in each sentence):

Jeffrey ate the brownie in one bite.


The vase fell off the shelf.


broken vase.jpg

Photo:  "I broke a vase":

Practice identifying the verb in the following self quiz.

 Toggle open/close quiz group


Part II: Agreement of Subjects and Verbs

Because subjects and verbs work together to create sentences, they must always be in agreement.

Think of verbs as being dependent on subjects; the number indicated by the subject must be mirrored by the verb.

Singular subject (representing only one person, place, or thing) = use a singular verb



Plural verb (representing more than one person, place, or thing) = use a plural verb


singular plural.jpg



Basically, subjects and verbs must agree in number.

Look at the following sentence (subject is bolded and verb is underlined):

s-v agree example table1.jpg



Making Subjects and Verbs Agree


Wondering how to make subjects and verbs agree?

Just remember the "rule of one -s."

You probably already know that adding an s or es to the end of a noun makes the noun plural.

Plural nouns end in -s or -es



The ducks sleep together.


Photo:  "ducklings":



However, you should also know that adding an s to the end of a present-tense verb does the opposite: the verb becomes singular.

Singular verbs end in -s



He delivers the mail on his motorbike.

mail bike.jpg

Photo:  "Three-wheeled Mail Collection Motorcycle":


Therefore, a singular subject (noun) will not end in -s, but the corresponding verb will.

singular plural table2.jpg


Look at the following examples:

singular diagram1.jpg


Notice the s ending on the verb spins, indicating the subject and verb are both singular.


plural diagram1.jpg


In this sentence, the subject "keys" ends in s, but the verb does not. Thus, we know both the subject and verb are plural.


Now practice the rule you just learned with the following sorting activities. First practice sorting verbs into two categories: Singular or Plural.

 Hyperlink to Sorting Activity 

Now practice sorting complete sentences into two categories: Singular Subject and Verb or Plural Subject and Verb.

 Hyperlink to Sorting Activity 


Irregular Plural Nouns

Some nouns are considered irregular because they don't use s or es to form the plural.

Examples of irregular plural nouns:



















Even though irregular plural nouns don't end with the standard s or es, they still require the appropriate plural verb.


The children play outside after dinner.

The women run track every afternoon.



In addition, some nouns have the same spelling regardless of their number. Therefore, we determine if they are singular or plural by looking at the verb.

See how the deer sneaks around the corner.


singular deer - indicated by the -s ending on the verb sneaks


See how the deer sneak around the corner.


plural deer - indicated by the missing -s ending on the verb sneak




Other than the general "rule of one -s," subject-verb agreement follows 5 additional rules.


Five Agreement Rules

The subject and verb must still agree in number even if one or more of the following situations occur:

1. words appear between the subject and verb of the sentence.

2. the sentence contains a compound subject (two subjects joined with the word "and").

3. the sentence is in reverse order (the verb appears before the subject).

4. the sentence uses indefinite pronouns.

5. two or more subjects are joined with neither/nor, either/or, or, and nor.


Let's look closer at each of these rules


rule 1.jpg


Examples (subject in green, verb in blue):

Roadways across the city close each spring for maintenance.

Rivers in the lower valley region overflow each year during heavy rains.

Mrs. Smith from next door wants to borrow a cup of sugar.

The tree in our backyard grows big red apples.


When the subject and verb are right next to each other in a sentence, we can easily recognize their agreement. However, sometimes they can be separated by additional words, such as description or explanations.

Roll your mouse over the highlighted words to discover definitions.



Words that appear between a subject and verb are often prepositional phrases.



Example: The signs beside the highway give directions to Maplewood Farms.


highway signs.jpg

Photo:  "Highway Directions":


Uncertain about prepositions and prepositional phrases? View the following video for a brief demonstration.

Remember, the subject and verb must still agree even if a prepositional phrase separates them


Sometimes the words appearing between the subject and verb are appositive phrases.

Appositives are words that rename a noun.

For example:

appositive diagram3.jpg

appositive diagram4.jpg



Don't let the appositive confuse you. Despite the appositive separating the subject and verb, the two must still agree.

appositive diagram1.jpg

appositive diagram2.jpg



To determine agreement, try crossing out or ignoring the words that fall between the subject and verb.

remove words diagram1.jpg

Practice subject-verb agreement for Rule #1 in the following activity:


 Hyperlink to DragNDrop Activity 



Special note about rule #1

Sometimes the phrase between the subject and verb contains its own subject. Often this phrase begins with "as well as," "together with," "along with," and "in addition to."

For example,

Molly, along with Alice, takes dance lessons at the recreation center

Who "takes lessons"?

The chairs, in addition to the table, go outside with the other garage sale items.

What items "go outside"?

These phrases do not affect subject-verb agreement. The verb must agree with the primary subject of the sentence.


When writing this type of sentence, try ignoring the phrase to help you decide the subject-verb agreement.

additional subject diagram1.jpg



Using these phrases can make subject-verb agreement confusing if the subject doing the action and the subject within the phrase represent a different number.

additional subject diagram2.jpg


In this sentence, "teacher" is singular but "students" is plural.


Because the verb falls immediately after the plural "students," we are tempted to use a plural verb such as "have."

However, we should ignore the phrase, and use a singular verb to match the singular subject "teacher."


If you are actually referring to both subjects rather than just one, use "and," which creates a compound subject and is considered plural.


compound subject diagram1.jpg

You will learn about compound subjects in the next rule.



rule 2.jpg

We call two or more subjects in a sentence a compound subject.

Examples of compound subjects:

cookies and milk

brother and sister

e-mail and Internet

pen, pencil, and paper

t-shirt and jeans

video games and television

beans, broccoli, and carrots

cookies and milk.jpg pen and paper.jpg

Photo:  "cookies & milk2": Photo: "Pen and Notebook":



We consider compound subjects plural because we are talking about more than one person, place, or thing. Therefore, we must use a plural verb.

compound table1.jpg

Even if both subjects are singular on their own, together they make a compound subject, which is plural.


Two exceptions to rule #2:

1.) When the parts of a compound subject combine to create a single idea or item, use a singular verb rather than a plural.

Compound exception3.jpg

compound exception4.jpg



2.) When the adjective "each" or "every" precedes the compound subject, we use a singular rather than plural verb.

This is because "each" and "every" are considered singular.


compound exception1.jpg

compound exception2.jpg




Practice identifying singular and plural compound subjects with the following sorting activity:

 Hyperlink to Sorting Activity 



rule 3.jpg



Verbs come before subjects when asking questions or beginning sentences with words like "there," "it," and any of the state of being verbs (am, was, were, had, have, etc.).


Where are you going on vacation?


There are gnomes in her backyard.

yard gnome.jpg

Photo:  "Gnome":


Regardless of word order, the verb must still agree with the subject.




reverse order diagram1.jpg

If you have trouble determining the agreement, try thinking about the sentence or question in the normal word order.

reverse order diagram2.jpg


Practice Rule #3 in the following quiz: 

 Toggle open/close quiz group


rule 4.jpg

Before we talk about this rule, let's do a quick review of indefinite pronouns.


First, let's start with the basics: What are pronouns? 

Pronouns are just words that rename nouns (he, she, it, they, them, we, us, you, your, our, etc). Look at the following list of nouns and their corresponding pronouns:











Amanda and I



it (they/them)



Examples (hover your mouse over the words highlighted in red to learn more information):

Melanie bought two garden gnomes for her flower garden.

She also purchased five plastic pink flamingos for her koi pond in the backyard.

The garden gnomes are cheerful little men; they wear overalls and red hats.


garden gnome2.jpg

Photo:  "Garden Gnome in the Bushes":

Now practice replacing nouns with pronouns in the following activity.

 Hyperlink to DragNDrop Activity 




So, you know what pronouns are, but what are indefinite pronouns?

They are still pronouns, of course, but they do not refer to or rename a specific person, place, or thing.

These include such words as: one, anyone, someone, anything, nothing, each, everybody, anybody, something, any, either, etc.

indefinite table1.jpg



Most indefinite pronouns are singular and require a singular verb for subject-verb agreement.


indefinite diagram1.jpg


However, some indefinite pronouns are plural and others could be plural or singular depending on the context in which they are used.

Below is a quick reference list of common indefinite pronouns and their number. 

indefinite table2.jpg  

Make sure the indefinite pronoun agrees with the verb according to the indefinite pronoun's number listed in the above chart.

Example: Both students arrive on time everyday.

Each student arrives on time everyday.



Because the indefinite pronouns "all," "any," "more," "most," and "some" could be singular or plural, look at what the pronoun is renaming or referring to.

Using the "Flash Card Activity," is the indefinite pronoun in each sentence renaming a singular or plural noun?

 Hyperlink to Flash Card Activity 



Practice Rule #4 with the following quiz:

 Toggle open/close quiz group


rule 5.jpg


neither-nor diagram1.jpg

either-or diagram2.jpg


Practice Rule #5 with the following quiz:

 Toggle open/close quiz group


Congratulations! You have finished the Pronoun Number Shifts tutorial!


Photo Attributions

Photo:  "Jack Hanna with Bird":

Photo:  "Leaning Tower of Pisa – again":

Photo:  "Bug":

Photo:  "I broke a vase":

Photo:  "ducklings":

Photo:  "Three-wheeled Mail Collection Motorcycle": 

Photo:  "Highway Directions":

Photo:  "cookies & milk2":

Photo:  "Pen and Notebook":

Photo:  "Gnome":

Photo:  "Garden Gnome in the Bushes":