What is subject-verb agreement?

This is the first of four chapters about Subject-Verb Agreement. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Introduce the concept of subject-verb agreement

– Discuss the importance of inflectional affixation

– Use examples to demonstrate number and agreement 

Chapter 1

One aspect of academic writing that non-native students of English often find difficult is using subject-verb agreement correctly. Even native speakers of the language occasionally make mistakes as there can be some complicated sentence structures which make it tricky to determine which part of the subject the verb phrase needs to agree with. This is probably because the subject of a sentence can be quite long, especially when comprised of multiple noun phrases and prepositional phrases. Before we can explore the topic of subject-verb agreement specifically, it’s first worth understanding what linguistic agreement actually is.

A type of inflectional affixation, agreement in linguistics (also known as concord) is when a word changes its form because of other words in the sentence it relates to. In the English language, there aren’t many examples of words that show morphological changes because of a relationship they possess with another word. Beyond the relationship that subjects and verbs have, one common example of such agreement is found in the determiners ‘this’ and ‘that’ which agree in grammatical number with the noun phrase that follows. Such agreement between determiners and nouns is shown in the singular and plural examples below, in which ‘this’ becomes ‘these’ and ‘that’ becomes ‘those’:

Subject-Verb Agreement 1.1 Determiner and Noun
Subject-Verb Agreement 1.2 Determiner and Noun
Subject-Verb Agreement 1.3 Determiner and Noun Phrase
Subject-Verb Agreement 1.4 Determiner and Noun Phrase

For subjects and verbs however, such agreement is in fact extremely common in the English language, as is shown in the following examples:

Subject-Verb Agreement 1.5 Subject, Verb and Object
Subject-Verb Agreement 1.6 Subject, Verb and Complement

If, however, the verb and its subject do not agree in a sentence, then that sentence will be ungrammatical and appear very odd to a native speaker of the language, such as ‘I is studying English’ or ‘China are an interesting place’. It’s therefore very important at the university level that you correct your subject-verb agreement errors before you submit a final assignment so that your work will seem sufficiently proofread. But to do this, you’ll first need to understand that there are two different types of subject-verb agreement, which are explained in Chapter 2.

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