CAT Grammar: Subject-Verb Agreement

Friday, May 3rd, 2019

CAT Grammar Subject-Verb Agreement
Seemingly a basic topic of English grammar, Subject-verb agreement forms an essential part of the English language. But how is it required for CAT preparation? Well, as you know, questions based on sentence correction are commonly asked in CAT and other MBA entrance exams. So, you are expected to be aware of the fundamental rules of subject-verb agreement. While you may think they are just the basic rules, the related questions may seem tricky to handle.

Starting with the basic, a sentence, as you know, is composed of two main parts: Subject and Verb.

The subject indicates what the sentence is talking about. It can be a noun or pronoun, singular or plural. The verb conveys the action part of the sentence. Now, what is the actual task? While tackling the sentence correction questions, you need to check if the subject agrees with the verb. In other words, is the appropriate form of verb used for the subject or not? Let’s see how to go about this:

  • Firstly, figure out the subject of the sentence.
  • Check whether the subject is singular or plural.
  • Finally, evaluate whether the form of verb used is correct as per the subject. In case, the verb is to be added, select the relevant option.

But the main thing is how do you know which form of verb is appropriate for the given subject? For this, you need to know some basic rules. Let’s understand the correct usage of verbs with the following rules:

1. Agreement in number

As you would know, the first rule specifies that the subject and verb should agree in number: either both should be in singular or both should be in plural. Examples:

  • My cat runs out of the house. (Singular verb form for singular subject)
  • The cats run out of the house. (Plural verb form for plural subject)

2. Subjects joined by “and”, “either/or”, “not only/but also”, “neither/nor”, “as well as”, etc.

While the subjects joined by ‘and’ take the plural form of verb, the subjects joined by ‘either’, ‘or’ or ‘nor’ take the verb that agrees with the nearest or last subject. Further, the subjects connected by ‘together with’, ‘with’, ‘as well as’, ‘accompanied by’, etc. take the verb depending upon the first subject. Let’s clarify this with the help of examples:

  • Bruno and Kitty are fighting over the fish. (Plural)
  • Neither Nikita nor Amish is appearing for CAT. (Singular)
  • Either Hitesh or his students are bringing chocolates. (Plural)
  • Not only Arun, but also his brothers were (Plural)
  • John, along with his wife and children, is going on a vacation. (Singular)

As you can see, the first sentence takes the plural form of verb due to the compound subject, while the rest three take the verbs as per the nearest/last subject.

An exception to this is: If the two singular nouns joined by ‘and’ refer to the same person/thing, the singular verb form is used. But how will you know if the two nouns refer to the same thing/person? Let’s take an example:

  • The coach and the captain of the team have (Plural)
  • The coach and captain of the team has (Singular)

Well, now, you know the difference: In case of a two different persons, two articles are used. Further, if the two singular subjects are synonymous with each other, the singular form of verb is used. E.g. Her position and power holds no charm for her anymore.

This also applies if two different singular nouns/subjects convey one idea.

3. Collective nouns can be singular or plural

Well, as you know, the collective nouns like class, orchestra, jury, committee, etc. may act as a single entity or divided units. Accordingly, the form of verbs can be plural or singular. Let’s discuss a few examples for better understanding.

  • After the decision got accepted by the court, the jury was (Singular)
  • The jury were divided in their opinion. (Plural)
  • The orchestra is playing a popular song. (Singular)
  • The orchestra were asked to tell about their musical backgrounds. (Plural)

Similarly, nouns indicating sports teams are accompanied by plural form of verb. E.g. India have made it to the World Cup finals. On the other hand, nouns like ‘headquarters’, ‘aims’, ‘whereabouts’ can take a singular as well as plural verb form.

Another interesting case of collective nouns is when a subject like ‘enemy’ is used to denote the defence forces/ army of a nation. Such nouns take plural form of verb. E.g. The enemy were defeated.

Further, the collective nouns that refer to money, measurements or time adopt a singular form of verb. Examples:

  • Four miles is too much for him to walk.
  • Two gallons of oil wasneeded to get the engine running.

4. Countable and uncountable nouns

As you would expect, the countable nouns are accompanied by plural form of verb while the uncountable nouns use singular form of verb. Example:

  • A number of soldiers have lost their lives in the battle. (Plural for countable noun)
  • Some of the students in the class were (Plural for countable noun)
  • Some of the rice was not cooked properly. (Singular for uncountable noun)
  • Most of the money was (Singular for uncountable noun)

So, when words like ‘some, few, several, many, both, all, a lot of, plenty of, a great deal of, most of, some of,’ are used with a countable noun, the verb is plural. In contrast, if these words are used with an uncountable noun, the verb is singular. Examples:

  • Only some of the leopards are (Plural for countable noun)
  • A lot of work needs to be completed. (Singular for uncountable noun)

An exception to this rule is: Similar to the case of collective nouns, if the countable nouns refer to a single unit, the verb form used is singular. E.g.: The number of soldiers on the frontline is large.

5. Commonly confused singular subjects

As the name states, these subjects may appear plural but use singular form of verbs. Such subjects are: everyone/anyone/someone, everybody/ anybody/somebody, everything/anything/something, whatever/whoever, neither/either(unless accompanied by ‘or/nor’), nothing/no one/nobody, each other, every. Examples:

  • Someone in the game was
  • One of the cartons is

An exception to this is in case of subjects like none/no. Examples:

  • None of the money was (Singular)
  • None of the students have completed the homework yet. (Plural)

So, what do you think is the difference in the subjects? Well, if you see carefully, ‘money’ is an uncountable noun while ‘students’ is a countable noun. In other words, plural or singular verb is used depending upon the noun accompanying the word ‘none’. Similarly, let’s see the examples for ‘no’:

  • No example is relevant to this question. (Singular)
  • No examples are relevant to this question. (Plural)

Now, as you can see, the difference here is simple. A singular or plural verb is used with ‘no’ depending upon the noun that follows it.

Another type of commonly confused singular subjects are the nouns like ‘mathematics’/‘maths’, ‘dollars’, ‘civics’, ‘news’, etc. These may seem plural but use singular verbs being a single entity. Examples:

  • Maths is a difficult subject.
  • A million dollars is required for repair.

6. “There” and “here” are not subjects

As you would expect, in sentences starting with ‘there’ and ‘here’, the subject is usually found later in the sentence. E.g. There were five toys on the table.

7. Quantity words/phrases

As the name suggests, quantity words/phrases refer to fractions, percentages, etc. You often encounter phrases like 10% of ..,half of ..,etc. What do you think should be the criteria for accompanying verb? Well, as you would expect, such sentences get the verb that agrees with the main subject. Examples:

  • Half of the money is
  • Half of the books are
  • 50 of every 100 men are

As discussed above, the main subject may be countable or uncountable, depending upon which the verb form is used.

An exception to this is the word ‘majority’. Words like ‘majority’ use a singular/plural form of verb depending upon whether it is alone or used with a plural noun. Examples:

  • The majority of the students were cheating in the examination. (Plural)
  • Majority refers to the greater part of the total. (Singular)
  • A majority is always right. (Singular)

8. Subjects in form of Phrases/ Clauses

You may come across phrases in –ing form or clauses that form subject of the sentence. What can be the verb criteria for such kind of subjects? Let’s discuss with a few examples:

  • Having best friends is a blessing.
  • Whatever she wants to do is fine with me.
  • Delivering burgers is not a glamorous job, but it pays his bills.

Well, you must have notice that these phrases/clauses convey one single idea. And that is the very reason why singular verbs are used for them.

Finally, you are well aware of the essential rules of subject verb agreement. The best way to remember them is to invest a good amount of time in practicing variety of sentence correction questions. Questions from previous year CAT papers and mock tests will greatly help you boost up your exam preparation.

You can also see: CAT Grammar: Introduction to Verb Tenses

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One response to “CAT Grammar: Subject-Verb Agreement”

  1. Jitendra Kumar says:

    Very lucrative
    Thanks sir

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