Subject-Verb Agreement

To do well in SC on GMAT, you need to know which verb-form goes with each type of subject, where to find the subject in a clause, and whether the subject is singular or plural.

The Traps

Don’t expect simple subject-verb agreement on the GMAT. There are 3 ways to confuse you:

  1. Make it difficult for you to locate the subject
  2. Make it difficult to identfy whether the subject is singular or plural.
  3. Insert intervening phrases and clauses to make it difficult to spot the subject and connect it to its proper verb.

Where is the Subject?

You can find the subject easily when it comes right before the verb:
Alan Paton has written movingly about life in South Africa.
Many readers consider Cry, the Beloved Country a classic.

But when the subject and verb are reversed, they still must agree in both number and person.

Sentences starting with THERE or HERE plus a form of the verb BE:

There was once a thriving civilization in the jungles of the Yucatan.
Here is a translation of Popol Vuh, the Mayan book about the dawn of life.

Sentences with inverted word order:

Visible near Monte Alban in southern Mexico are massive pyramids constructed over two thousand years ago.

Some questions:

Have archeologists identified the builders of the pyramids?
Are you going to Egypt this year?
Will the travel agent book you on a charter flight?

The Problem Of “Of”

If you see an “of construction”, don’t be bogged down by the complexity brought in by the intervening phrase. Eliminate the “of construction” and the sentence should still sound correct.

  • The building of tall skyscrapers (has/have) increased in the past few years.
  • The actions of my friend (is/are) not very wise.
  • Only one of the President’s nominees was confirmed.

Can I have your NUMBER please!

Ironically, third person singular verbs often end in s or es:
He plays football.

Ground rules

In most cases, the subject affects the form of the verb only when the verb is in the present tense. Except for the verb BE and for SUBJUNCTIVE verb forms, the rules of agreement in the present tense are as follows:

1. With third-person singular subjects, add -s or -es to the bare form of
the verb:

  • Mukul wants to study Finance.
  • She works at the post office.
  • It manages over three hundred activities.
  • Each of them holds a degree.
  • He drives his BMW everyday.

EXCEPTIONS: The verb have becomes has:

  • Everyone has problems.
  • Fear has gripped all of us.

2. With all other subjects, use the bare form of the verb:

  • Biologists study the plants.
  • They evaluate the results.
  • We want to make a good reputation.

3. Whatever the subject, use the bare form of any verb that follows an auxiliary, such as does, can, or may:

  • Does she play the piano?
  • She can sing.
  • He may become the President.

TO BE or not to be is the question

1. When be is a main verb, its forms are as follows:


  • I am cold.
  • You are cold.
  • She, He, It, Everyone, The student – is cold.
  • We, You, They, Many, The students – are cold.

  • I was cold.
  • You were cold.
  • She, He, It, Everyone, The student – was cold.
  • We, You, They, Many, The students – were cold.

2. When be is an auxiliary, its form depends on the subject, just as when be is a main verb:

  • I am annoyed by most tax forms.
  • The current one is written in incomprehensible language.
  • The pages are covered with small print and confusing diagrams.
  • What were the experts thinking of when they designed the form?

Misleading spellings

If the Noun means a singular object, it is singular, even if it ends in -s:

  • The lens was cracked.
  • The Grapes of Wrath is John Steinbeck’s greatest novel.
  • Gas is cheaper this summer than it was last fall.

If the Noun means a pluaral object, it is plural, even if it does NOT end in -s:

  • The lenses were cracked. His teeth are crooked.
  • Women deserve to be paid as much as men are.
  • The new data require study. Mice like cheese.
  • Cats like mice.

If the Noun has the same spelling for its Singular and Plural form, the number depends whether it is used as Singular or Plural:

  • A deer was nibbling the lettuce.
  • Two deer were standing in the middle of the road.
  • One means of campaigning is direct mail.
  • Two other means are TV advertising and mass rallies.

The power of AND

Two singuar subjects joined by AND becomes a compound plural subject.

  • Joe and his friends ARE going to the beach.
  • Mathematics, history, and science ARE required high-school subjects.

Curious case of Mr. ADDITIVE

Additive phrases such as : along with, in addition to, as well as, accompanied by, together with, including, etc. do NOT form compound subjects.

  • Joe, along with his friends, IS going to the beach.
  • Mathematics, in addition to history and science, IS a required subject.

OR, EITHER … OR, and so on

  • or,
  • either . . . or,
  • neither . . . nor,
  • not . . . but,
  • not only . . . but also

For all the above cases the verb agrees with the subject in its proximity.

  • Neither steel nor glass cuts a diamond.
  • Not a new machine but new workers are needed for the job.

“EACH” of these rules IS important. “EVERY” guy AND girl LEARNS them

When each or every is the subject of a sentence, it requires a singular verb form.

  • Each of these shirts IS pretty.
  • Every cat and dog in the neighborhood was fighting.
  • Every dog and cat HAS paws.

But if the subject includes plural items, treat it as plural:

  • Every cat and two of the dogs were fighting.

EXCEPTION: When each or every follows a subject, it has no bearing on the verb form.

  • They each ARE great tennis players. (Here, the plural subject they requires the plural verb form are. )

Indefinite pronouns


  • He, she, it
  • this, that
  • anybody, anyone, anything
  • each, each one
  • everybody, everyone, everything
  • whoever
  • nobody, none, no one, nothing
  • one, another
  • somebody, someone, something
  • whatever, whichever
  • either, neither(Either and neither may require a plural verb form when paired with or/nor.)

The object of the “of construction” determines the number of the subject.
The SANAM Pronouns: Some, Any, None, All, Most

  • Some of the money WAS stolen from my wallet. (Money is singular.)
  • Some of the documents WERE stolen from the bank. (Documents is plural.)

Subject phrase

When the entire phrase acts as a subject, it is always singular and require singular verb forms even though the phrase has plural words in it.

  • Having good friends IS a wonderful thing.
  • Whatever they want to do IS fine with me.

Collective nouns

Collective nouns and nouns of measurement are singular when they refer to a unit, and plural when they refer to the individuals or elements of a unit:

  • Half of the cake was eaten.
  • Half of the jewels were stolen.
  • The jury was unanimous.
  • The jury were divided in its opinion.

Nouns of measurement

  • Statistics is the study and analysis of numerical information about the world.
  • Recent statistics show a marked decline in the U.S. birthrate during the past twenty years.
  • Fifty dollars is a lot to ask for a cap.

Numerical words and phrases

the number of – singular verb form
a number of – plural verb form

  • The number of hardworking students in this class IS quite large.
  • A number of students in this class ARE hard workers.

majority, minority, plurality — can be either singular or plural depending on their context.
If one means the many individual parts of the totality, then use a plural verb form:

  • The majority of the students in this class ARE hard workers.

If one means the totality itself, then use a singular verb form:

  • The student majority IS opposed to the death penalty.

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