Matching Subjects and Verbs

The SAT loves to make things complicated when testing subject-verb agreement. Most people would recognize that if the subject is “Joyce” and the verb is “running,” the sentence should be “Joyce is running,” rather than “Joyce are running.” However, some subjects and sentence structures can make the verb choice less clear.

 

Collective Nouns

A collective noun is a noun that represents a group of people or things. Though there are multiple people or things in a single group, the subject is the group, singular, rather than the individual members of the group, which would be plural. In each of the examples below, the verb is italicized while the subject is underlined.

 

Examples:

The class is going on a field trip.

The board plans to vote on the merger today.

The Girl Scout troop is going to plan a birthday party for Lucy.

 

“The A of Bs”

Sometimes a question will try to trip you up by including a plural noun in between the (singular) subject and its verb. For example, in the sentence “The list of groceries is on the kitchen counter,” list is the subject, not groceries. If you bought “a box of chocolates,” the subject would be box (singular), not chocolates (plural).

 

Examples:

The bag of cookies is on the kitchen table.

The vase of flowers is on the mantle.

The team of softball players is going to Disneyland.

 

Either/Or and Neither/Nor

If the sentence includes either/or or neither/nor, make sure you’re careful. When only one of the subjects will actually be performing the action, the verb will still be singular. For example, in the sentence “Rico and Angie are going to the party,” the verb refers to both people, plural. However, the sentence “Either Rico or Angie has Jane’s gift” refers to only one person, singular, and thus uses the singular verb has.