Related Links

Article of the Week

Run-On Sentences

Run-on sentences occur when writers try to combine more than one idea into a single sentence. They cause confusion because readers are not sure when one idea ends and the next one begins. Read our entry and test your knowledge with our quiz!



Subject-Verb Agreement

Most sentences we write typically follow a subject-verb-object pattern. The subject is the do-er of the sentence: the person or thing that is performing an action. The verb is this action: the thing that is being done. The object is the recipient of the action: it is who or what the verb is being done to. This may seem complicated, but we are all already familiar with this pattern:  

                 

Peter loves Becky.


The first question that we should ask ourselves is: what is being done? In this case, a person is loving another person – so, the verb is to love. Next, we must ask ourselves who or what is doing the action? For this sentence, who is the person that is loving?  We’re told that Peter loves Becky, so Peter is the person performing the action: Peter is the subject. Finally, we ask who is receiving the action. Who is being loved? Becky is the person being loved, so Becky is the object. To review, here are the questions we must ask ourselves to figure out the subject, verb, and object:    

             

Verb: What is being done?                   

Subject: Who/what is doing it?                   

Object: Who/what are they doing it to? 


Let’s try another example:                   


Sherman kicked the ball.       

            

Verb: What is being done? Someone has kicked something.                   

Subject: Who did the kicking? Sherman. 

Object: What was kicked? The ball. 


Be careful: The part of the sentence that follows the verb is not always the object. Many times, a prepositional phrase, which is a phrase that simply adds detail, will follow a verb. Let’s look at these examples:      

             

Cheryl sang.                        

             

What is being done? Someone has sung. Sang is the verb.                                  

Who is doing the singing? Cheryl. Cheryl is the Subject.                                     

What was Cheryl singing? We are not told, so in this sentence, there is no object.


Cheryl sang the song O Fortuna. 


Sang is still our verb and Cheryl is still our subject, but now an object has been added to the sentence – we can answer the question “what was Cheryl singing?” The object is "the song O Fortuna". 


Cheryl sang in the choir. 


“Cheryl” and “sang” our still our subject and verb, but what is “in the choir?” Does it answer the question “What was Cheryl singing?”  No. Instead, it just gives us additional information about how Cheryl sang. “In the choir” is a prepositional phrase; there is no object in this sentence. 


It is also important to recognize whether the subject of a sentence is singular or plural. The way the verb is conjugated depends on this distinction, referred to as the number of the sentence. Here are some examples of sentences with plural subjects (subjects will be bold and the verbs will be underlined):                   


The boys were late to dinner.                   

Motorcycles are a very dangerous form of transportation.                   

They all listen to the same style of music as I do.                   

Omar and his girlfriend eat lunch together everyday.  


Here are some similar examples with singular subjects:    

               

The boy was late to dinner.                     

A motorcycle is a very dangerous form of transportation.                   

Abby listens to the same style of music as I do. 

Omar eats lunch alone every day. 


Notice the way the verbs changed from one sentence to another (were to was, are to is, and listen to listens). This change in verb conjugation results from the change in number of the subject. Going from a singular to a plural subject, or vice versa, alters the way we conjugate our verbs. Sometimes, identifying whether a subject is plural or singular can be a bit tricky. Take this sentence, for example:                  


The teacher with black hair and thick glasses wrote the lessons on the blackboard.


What is the subject of this sentence? If we ask our selves who the do-er is in this sentence, the answer is obvious: the teacher with black hair and glasses. Determining whether this subject is singular or plural, however, might pose some problems. We need to identify the simple subject to do so.  We can often find the simple subject by ignoring any prepositional phrase found within the subject. By eliminating the prepositional phrase (with black hair and glasses) from the sentence, we see that the teacher, a singular noun, is the simple subject. Our verb should then be conjugated in accordance to the number of the simple subject. Let’s look at another example: 


The mechanic with all the wrenches was under the hood of the car.    

                   

Subject: The mechanic with all the wrenches                   

Prepositional Phrase: “with all the wrenches”                   

Simple Subject: “The mechanic” 


So, because our simple subject is singular, our verb should be conjugated accordingly.  “The mechanic with all the wrenches was under the hood of the car,” not “The mechanic with all the wrenches were under the hood of the car.” 


Need practice with Subject-Verb Agreement?  

Download a Worksheet 

Do Online Practice 1

Do Online Practice 2

Take an Online Test