Subject verb agreement: some problem points

Collective nouns

Collective nouns are usually treated as singular and take singular verbs. However, they may take a plural verb when we are talking about the individual members within the group.

  • An unruly mob was gathering outside.
  • The mob were (i.e., members) scattered in all directions.

A number of

The phrase a number of should be followed by a plural noun and a plural verb.

  • A number of objections were raised against the proposal.
  • A number of issues still need to be resolved.

When the sentence begins with ‘The number of’, the verb should be singular.

  • The number of available jobs is shrinking rapidly. (Here the subject is ‘number’, not ‘jobs’.)

A half of, a part of

Fractional expressions such as a half of, a part of and a majority of can be followed by a singular or a plural verb. It depends on the meaning.

  • A large percentage of the population is angry with the ruling party.
  • Nearly 60 percent of the members are in favor of the new policy.

The expression ‘more than one’ takes a singular verb.

  • More than one student has tried to cheat on the exam.
  • More than one person has been diagnosed with swine flu.

A positive and a negative subject together

When you put a positive and a negative subject together, the verb must agree with the positive subject.

  • The members, but not the chairman, have decided to vote against the proposal. (Here the plural verb have agrees with the positive subject ‘the members’.)
  • It is his attitude, not his ideas, that invites criticism.

A plural noun that names a single subject

When a group of words containing a plural noun represents a single object, you must use a singular verb.

  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was enjoyed by us all.
  • Gulliver’s Travels was written by Jonathan Swift.
  • Thrice-told Tales is an interesting book.


None should be used with a singular verb. A plural verb is also possible in a less careful style.

  • None of his friends was there to help him. (Formal)
  • None of his friends were there to help him. (Less formal)