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Determine If the Subject Is Singular or Plural

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Determine If the Subject Is Singular or Plural

After the location of the subject, we have to decide whether it is singular or plural. In English, confusion arises because most present-tense verbs (with the notable exceptions of be and have) add -s or -es when their subject is third-person singular (He runs fast; She eats a lot), while nouns ending in -s or -es are plural (potatoes, computers). The following sample shows how regular English verbs are conjugated in the present tense:

Singular : I dream
Plural: we dream
Singular: you dream
Plural: you dream
Singular: he(she, it) dreams
Plural: they dream

There are a number of plural nouns that are regarded as singular in meaning, as well as other nouns that can be both singular or plural, depending on the context of the sentence. Athletics, economics, news, measles, politics, physics, and statistics, for example, are often treated as singular nouns. Mathematics, on the other hand, can idiomatically be used with either a singular or a plural verb.


1)There are many different views on the subject.

2)A case of folders is on sale today.

3)Margie works long hours in her new job.

4)Words that intervene between a subject and a verb do not affect subject-verb agreement.

Often, a phrase or clause will intervene between a subject and a verb. These intervening words do not affect subject-verb agreement, as illustrated in the following examples.


1)The supervisor of the department, together with his sales force, istaking the late-afternoon shuttle.

2)The representatives for the congressman are exploring alternate methods of disposing of newspapers.

3)A display f luscious food sometimes encourages impulse buying.

4)The profits earned this quarter are much higher than we had expected.

In general, singular subjects connected by or, nor, either . . . or, or neither . . . nor take a singular verb if both subjects are singular, and a plural verb if both subjects are plural.

In the following example the singular verb “has" is used since both supervisor and colleague are singular:

Either your supervisor or your colleague has to take responsibility for the error.

In the following example the plural verb "have" is used since both supervisors and colleagues are plural:

Either the supervisors or his colleagues have to take responsibility for the error.

1)Neither the sled nor the snow shovel hasbeen put away.

2)Either the clown or the magician is scheduled to appear at the library this Sunday afternoon.

3)Neither boots nor shoes areincluded in the one-day sale.

If a subject consists of both singular and plural nouns or pronouns connected by or or nor, the verb usually agrees with the nearer noun or pronoun.

In the following sentence, the plural verb "have" agrees with the plural noun members:

Neither the mayor nor the council members have yielded.

Notice how the verb becomes singular when mayor and members switch order:

Neither the council members nor the mayor has yielded.

Practice in this matter varies, however, and often the presence of one plural subject, no matter what its position, results in the use of a plural verb. Sometimes writers will place the plural subject closest to the verb to avoid awkwardness.


1)Neither we nor she hasdistributed the memo yet.

2)Neither shenor we have distributed the memo yet.

3)Either Martha, Ruth, or the Champney girls areplanning to organize the sweet sixteen party.

Two or more subjects, phrases, or clauses connected by and take a plural verb.

Whether the individual subjects are singular or plural, together they form a compound subject, which is plural.


1)The president and his advisers were behind schedule.

2)The faculty and staff have planned a joint professional retreat.

3)Richard and his dog jog before work every morning.

4)Sleeping late Sunday morning and readingthe paperleisurely helprelax me after a long week at work.

Traditionally, when the subjects are joined by and refer to the same object or person or stand for a single idea, the entire subject is treated as a unit. Most often, the personal pronoun or article before the parts of the compound subject indicates whether the subject is indeed seen as a unit. As with other matters of agreement, this varies widely in actual use.


Unit as Singular:

Ham and swiss is my favorite sandwich.

My mentor and friend guides me through difficult career decisions. (mentor and friend are the same person)

Unit as Plural:

Ham and Swiss makea great sandwich.

My mentor and my friend guide me through difficult career decisions. (mentor and friend are two different people)

Mixed Units:

Ham and eggs was once considered a nutritious and healthful breakfast; now, cereal and fresh fruit are considered preferable.

Nouns that refer to weight, extent, time, fractions, portions, or amount considered as one unit usually take a singular verb; those that indicate separate units usually take a plural verb.

In the first two examples below, the subjects are considered as single units and thus take a singular verb.
In the last two, the subjects are considered as individual items and thus take a plural verb.


1)Seventy-five cents is more than enough to buy what you want at the penny carnival.

2)Three fourths of the harvest wassaved through their heroic efforts.

3)Half of the nails were rusted.

4)Fifty pounds of fresh chicken are being divided among the eager shoppers.

Sample Usage

As mentioned above.

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