Skip to content

Agreement: Singular or Plural


Objectives

Agreement relates to the concepts of singularity and plurality. In English, changes in the base form of a verb must 'agree' with the subject (sometimes referred to as the 'S-V' principle), depending on whether the subject of the verb is singular or plural. For example, we say

              'he/she/everyone/it goes..'. but 'all the children go...'

              'Society is intolerant of crime' but 'Societies around the world are intolerant of crime'.

When editing your writing, check for agreement, paying close attention to subjects, verbs, and pronouns. Agreement between subjects and verbs and between pronouns and their antecedents (previous word or words they refer to) is important for coherent writing, as well as for style and grammar.

 

In this unit, we will examine agreement in these contexts:

•   subject-verb agreement with:

  •  two or more nouns
  •  collective nouns (group nouns)
  •  quantifiers 

•   pronoun-antecedent agreement

•   parallel structures

•   special cases

 

Try the Quiz and test your knowledge and use of this principle.

Quiz

Complete the following paragraph with the correct noun or verb forms.

One of the problems facing international students at Auckland University is using English in academic contexts.  Many international students do not realise how difficult academic writing is until they start to do it.  They do not understand what is expected of them at university. Not all students take advantage of the various support services available. Those who do benefit enormously and become better and more effective writers . Some students even make appointments to see the language advisers at ELE; others go to Student Learning Services. It is important for students to make use of both services to learn all kinds of writing if they want to succeed at university. Both time and effort are needed, and needless to say, students feel stressed, but the confidence gained will ensure their success at university. 

 

How well did you do? 

Review some general rules governing agreement and some special cases.

 

Review

The following tables summarise the basic rules and exceptions:

 

Practice

Fill in each blank with the correct answer from the options given.

1. One of the students on the Youth Council _____ from South Africa.

2. Writing essays _____ a lot of skill.

3. There are two main _____ of the International Advisory Committee.

4. On iTunes, music is categorised under song title, name of the artist, or _____.

5. Public transport _____ people move to another place easily.

6. Not only does the car occupy space, it also _____ noise.

7. Bread and butter ____ the staple food of the people of this village.

8. These days, many people are afraid of nuclear technology, because of the dangers associated with ____ use.

9. New Zealand's universities and ____ have become increasingly recognised overseas for their exceptionally high standard.

10. New Zealand is recognised as one of the most sports-conscious ____ in the world.


  

Complete this text with the singular or plural noun or verb.

One of the universal concerns of the present century relates to the health issue. Even in the United States, the world's most powerful country, ordinary people are unable to support themselves on a daily basis. It is well-documented that President Obama won the presidential debates because he drew attention to the health care issue. China is facing a similar crisis , where even a middle-class family cannot afford the high costs of medical care. In recent years , however, there has been a noticeable improvement . People over the age of 45 now receive 90% health coverage from the government. The Chinese government has invested millions of dollars to establish a social welfare system across the country. The New Zealand social welfare system, which represents one of the greatest achievements of the Labour government, could be a model for China to follow, particularly the Accident Compensation System.

Source: Student writing. (Used with permission of student but modified.)


  

Special Cases

Click here to view a Rules chart for Special Cases

SINGULAR OR PLURAL – SPECIAL CASES- RULES CHART 

SUBJECTSINGULAR VERBPLURAL VERBEXAMPLE
there √ √ There is a telephone in every room.There are two beds in every room.
-one wordsOne, Anyone, Everyone, someone √  One of the team members is sick./If anyone wants to help, call Jim./ Someone is knocking on the door.
-body words (Nobody,AnybodyEverybody,Somebody√  Nobody has time to help./If anybody does not agree, say so.Everybody is going to the game./Somebody/Something has eaten my candy.
-thing words (Nothing, Anything, Everything, Something)√  Nothing matters in life but good health./ Anything you can bring is helpful./ Everything we owned was lost in the fire.
Each √  Each of the chairs has a number.The books are expensive. Each costs $25.
Either; neither √  I have an extra ticket if either of the girls wants to come. Neither of my cousins has ever been here.
Plural words showing distance, money, or time√  Twenty miles is not far by car./ A million dollars is a lot of money./ Three hours of English class is tiring.
Arithmetical calculations √  Five plus five is ten./ Two times five equals ten.
Either..or/neither nor (verb agrees with subject closest to it)√ √ Either/Neither the chairs or/nor the table has to be moved.Either/Neither the table or/nor the chairs have to be moved.
Not only..but also (verb agree with subject closest to it)√ √ Not only the dogs but also the cat is sick.Not only the cat but also the dogs are sick.
None of (meaning ‘not any’)+plural count noun √ None of the children are hungry. 
None of (meaning ‘not one’)+non-count noun√  None of the food is fresh; /None of the information is useful.
All of +non-count noun√  All of the furniture was loaded on the truck.
All of+plural count noun  √ All of the houses were built at the same time. 
Some nouns ending in –s √  The news has just begun./Physics is my best subject.The right lens of my sunglasses is scratched.
Collective nouns (often end in –s √ Those pants are too long for her./ His jeans always have holes in them./ These  scissors are very sharp.
(But ‘a pair of +these nouns) A pair of scissors has disappeared. 
Some of + plural count noun  √ Some of the beads are missing. 
Some of + noncount noun √  Some of the water is gone. 
Fractional expressions (half of, a part of, etc-can be both singular and plural depending on context)√ √ A large percentage of the population is against her.40%  of the student body is in favour of  the change.40% of the students are in favour of the change.
subject+phrase (e.g as well as, together with, etc-these modify the subject not compound it.)√  The Mayor, as well as his brothers, is going to prison.The US President, accompanied by his wife, is opening the summit.

 Source:Turkenik, C. (1998). Choices: Writing Projects for Students of ESL. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.  pp. 196-198.


SINGULAR OR PLURAL – SPECIAL CASES- RULES CHART 

SUBJECTSINGULAR VERBPLURAL VERBEXAMPLE
there √ √ There is a telephone in every room.There are two beds in every room.
-one wordsOne, Anyone, Everyone, someone √  One of the team members is sick./If anyone wants to help, call Jim./ Someone is knocking on the door.
-body words (Nobody,AnybodyEverybody,Somebody√  Nobody has time to help./If anybody does not agree, say so.Everybody is going to the game./Somebody/Something has eaten my candy.
-thing words (Nothing, Anything, Everything, Something)√  Nothing matters in life but good health./ Anything you can bring is helpful./ Everything we owned was lost in the fire.
Each √  Each of the chairs has a number.The books are expensive. Each costs $25.
Either; neither √  I have an extra ticket if either of the girls wants to come. Neither of my cousins has ever been here.
Plural words showing distance, money, or time√  Twenty miles is not far by car./ A million dollars is a lot of money./ Three hours of English class is tiring.
Arithmetical calculations √  Five plus five is ten./ Two times five equals ten.
Either..or/neither nor (verb agrees with subject closest to it)√ √ Either/Neither the chairs or/nor the table has to be moved.Either/Neither the table or/nor the chairs have to be moved.
Not only..but also (verb agree with subject closest to it)√ √ Not only the dogs but also the cat is sick.Not only the cat but also the dogs are sick.
None of (meaning ‘not any’)+plural count noun √ None of the children are hungry. 
None of (meaning ‘not one’)+non-count noun√  None of the food is fresh; /None of the information is useful.
All of +non-count noun√  All of the furniture was loaded on the truck.
All of+plural count noun  √ All of the houses were built at the same time. 
Some nouns ending in –s √  The news has just begun./Physics is my best subject.The right lens of my sunglasses is scratched.
Collective nouns (often end in –s √ Those pants are too long for her./ His jeans always have holes in them./ These  scissors are very sharp.
(But ‘a pair of +these nouns) A pair of scissors has disappeared. 
Some of + plural count noun  √ Some of the beads are missing. 
Some of + noncount noun √  Some of the water is gone. 
Fractional expressions (half of, a part of, etc-can be both singular and plural depending on context)√ √ A large percentage of the population is against her.40%  of the student body is in favour of  the change.40% of the students are in favour of the change.
subject+phrase (e.g as well as, together with, etc-these modify the subject not compound it.)√  The Mayor, as well as his brothers, is going to prison.The US President, accompanied by his wife, is opening the summit.

Source:Turkenik, C. (1998). Choices: Writing Projects for Students of ESL. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.  pp. 196-198.

Practice

Select the correct verb form to complete each of the following sentences.

1    All the latest information about Swine Flu is available on the Ministry of Health website.

2    All the students who attended the workshop at the weekend have been contacted.

3    Either the student or the tutor has the missing paper.

4    Some of the votes have not been counted.

5    Three-quarters of the students are against the increase in tuition fees.

6    Three-quarters of the student population is against the increase in tuition fees.

7    None of the animals were harmed in the course of this study.

8    The number of the participants in the study has dropped.

9    A number of participants in the study have dropped out.

10  Ninety-nine dollars is a lot of money to pay for such a small item.

11  Most of the information in this paragraph  is irrelevant.  

12  Most of the facts are incorrectly cited.

 


  

Challenge Tasks

Read the following text and correct any errors of agreement.
Text 1

Both speaking and writing is important for everyone who are interested in learning a languages. If ESL student know how to write good English and do not make mistake in grammar, but cannot communicate with other student because they do not speak English then they will have a lot of difficulty in their classes.

Reading and writing is very closely related. People who read a lot also has to write about what they have read. Reading expand thinking and give new experience. Reading also provide informations about the problem in the world.

Writing is very important in our life. It make communication easy and brings people closer together. Writing connect people with family and friend living in distant place. It allow people to save their idea and thought for future reference.

Source: Student writing (used with permission of student but modified to highlight agreement errors)

Copy and paste the text in the box below and correct any errors of agreement.


      

Read the following texts and correct any errors of agreement.

Text 2: Bringing up children

It is generally accepted that the experience of children in his first years largely determine their characters and later personality. Every experiences teaches children something and the effects is cumulative. 'Upbringing' is normally used to refer to the treatments and training of children within the home. This is closely related to the education of children in school. In modern society, both parent and teacher are responsible for the opportunities provided for the developments of children, so that upbringing and education are interdependent.

The ideals and practices of child rearing varies from culture to culture. In general, the more rural the community, the more uniform is the customs of child upbringing. In more technologically developed society, the period of childhood and adolescence tend to be extended over a long time, resulting in more opportunity for education and greater variety in character developments.

 

Adapted from: Mosback, G., & Mosback, V. (2001). Practical faster reading: A course in reading and vocabulary for upper-intermediate and more advanced students.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (p. 92.)


Copy and paste the text in the box below and correct any errors of agreement.


      

Edit page