Grammatical agreement

(Concord of constituents in English sentences)

Table of contents – grammatical agreement

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Agreement of subject and verb
  2. Agreement of pronoun and noun
  3. Problems and difficulties
  4. Further explanations and exercises

What does the agreement of subject and verb in English grammar mean?

In English grammar, too, there are rules about the extent to which certain parts of a sentence are dependent on each other and must agree. This regulation is called grammatical agreement or concord. As different types exist, the most important one is the agreement of subject and verb in their number, which requires the verb to be conjugated accordingly. In contrast to other languages such as German or Spanish, there is just little agreement in English. The one that does occur can be recognized mainly in the verbs, above all in the highly irregular verb ‘to be’.

Take the following rule for subject-verb agreement into account:

  • Singular subjects require singular verbs:
    • He is from Scotland.”
      • Since the verb ‘to be’ has several forms, you can easily see the agreement in the third person singular of the present simple (he + is).
    • Margaret loves ice cream.”
      • For a regular verb, the only way to tell that the subject agrees with the verb in their grammatical number (Margaret + loves) is by the appended ‘-s’ (or ‘-es’) in the third person singular.
  • Plural subjects need plural verbs:
    • They are from Ireland.”
      • Here, the verb ‘to be’ is conjugated in the third person plural (are) and, thus, agrees with the plural subject (they).
    • Margaret and Paul love popcorn.”
      • The form ‘love’ of the regular verb ‘to love’ corresponds to its basic form (infinitive) here.
  • Information: For most modal verbs, there is no need to consider the number. They always agree, as all their forms correspond to their infinitives (basic forms):
    • He can play the guitar.”
      • singular
    • They can play the piano.”
      • plural

Agreement of pronoun and noun

Regardless of the subject-verb agreement, specific pronouns must agree with their accompanying nouns within the same clause. These are still not many and are limited to the demonstrative pronouns/determinersthis, that, these,’ and ‘those’:

  • This cake is delicious.”
    • this’ is singular, as ‘cake’ also appears in the singular.
  • “Sally has made these muffins.”
    • Here, however, the noun ‘muffins’ is in the plural; so, ‘these’ must also be in the plural.

Problem cases and difficulties with the agreement (concord)

Occasionally, there is a deviation from the correct grammatical agreement—or at least it appears to be at first sight. It is then primarily the subjunctive, which also occurs in conditional sentences:

  • “The headmaster demands that she take the test again.”
    • Because of the subject ‘she’, the verb ‘take’ would typically have to end with an ‘s’. In this instance, however, the subjunctive can be used.
  • “If I were you, I would just study more for the next exam.”
    • In some situations, there is no agreement in if-clauses. Such lack is almost exclusively the case with the verb ‘to be’. In this example, the standard form would be ‘I was’.


Although the conjugation of English verbs is simple in most cases, particular difficulties may arise about determining singular and plural. Accordingly, you should pay close attention to the following points:

  • The mistake of using indefinite pronouns, such as ‘everybody, everyone, nobody’, with plural verbs occurs repeatedly. The reason is that they represent a group of people and are, therefore, quickly associated with the plural. Nonetheless, a singular verb has to be utilized instead:
    • Everybody has arrived.”
    • Everybody have arrived.”
  • When the subject is long (or when other constituents of the sentence stand between the subject and the verb), you must not lose sight of whether it is plural or singular:
    • Victoria from Edinburgh with the curly hair and the tiny glasses is coming next week.”
      • This example shows a relatively long subject (comprising multiple parts). Nevertheless, the head is ‘Victoria’ and in the singular.
    • The banks, which don’t usually open on Saturdays, do not want to extend their business hours.”
      • Even if the subject no longer precedes the verb directly, the agreement between the subject ‘the banks’ and the verb ‘do not want’ must be preserved.
  • ‘either’ and ‘neither’ are equally problematic, as they are generally singular. Despite that, common plural exceptions do occur:
    • According to the rule: Neither of the two books is interesting.”
      • A singular verb (here: is) is consistently the appropriate choice.
    • Common: Have either of you ever heard of punctuality?”
      • Here, a plural verb (have) is employed because the speaker is addressing the people personally.
  • Collective nouns may sometimes cause difficulties too. Often, however, they are used in the singular:
    • “During our safari in Africa, a herd of elephants was running towards us.”
  • Furthermore, conjunctions or linking words are a source of error: ‘and’ and a few others require a subject in the plural, whereas ‘as well as’ or ‘along with’ do not:
    • Nicole and Gary are flying to Brisbane.”
      • With ‘and’, the subject becomes plural.
    • Nicole as well as Gary is flying to Sydney.”
      • Careful with the combinations ‘as well as’ or ‘along with’. Here, the subject stays singular.
  • Attention when you use quantifiers such as ‘all’:
    • All of the yummy pudding has gone.”
    • All the cookies have been eaten.”
  • For percentages, you have to know the respective rules to be able to determine the correct verb form:
    • 60% of all citizens are satisfied with their work-life balance.”
      • The plural verb ‘are’ is necessary here.

Further explanations referring to ‘Agreement in English sentences’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Grammatical agreement (concord of constituents) in an English sentence’ and may be interesting as well: