Posted On May 15, 2017 by Print This Post

Can’t We All Just Agree to Agree? Part 1 by Nan Reinhardt

Editor Nan is up to bat again–this time with subject-verb agreement. Next time, she’ll tackle pronouns and antecedents–fun!


Agreement is always a good thing, right? Well, pretty much, but most especially when it comes to grammar and writing. In the next two Editor Nan posts, I’m going to talk about agreement in grammar. The agreement issues that seem to crop up most frequently when I’m editing fiction for my authors are subject-verb agreement and pronoun-antecedent agreement.

Today we’re going to do a quick-and-dirty lesson on subject-verb agreement. Subject-verb agreement means that the subject and verb in a sentence must agree in number. They both must be singular, or they both must be plural, thus no singular subject with a plural verb or plural subject with a singular verb. Singular and plural subjects, or nouns, are usually pretty easy and I like easy, don’t you?

The cat meows when she is hungry.  (One cat means the singular verb form meows.)

The cats meow when they are hungry.  (More than one cat means the plural verb form meow.)

Easy peasy, right? But what if the subject and verb are separated by a bunch of words? Well, generally, a prepositional phrase doesn’t affect agreement. So, try this:

The color of the tulips is quite lovely. of the tulips” is incidental here—we’re talking about the color: The color is lovely. (Color is singular, so is the verb, is.)

It can get a little bit more confusing, but stick with me here, okay? If you start a sentence with here or there, then the subject is going to come after the verb. Don’t panic—it’s okay.

There is an issue with the car’s muffler. (subject = issue; verb = is)

Here are the oranges you asked me to pick up.  (subject = oranges; verb = are)

Here’s another tricky one: If two subjects are joined by the conjunction and, they will typically get a plural verb.

The man and woman are hiking the Appalachian Trail. (subject = man and woman; verb = are hiking)

But the verb is singular if the two subjects refer to the same thing.

Macaroni and cheese is my favorite side dish. (subject = macaroni and cheese [one dish]; verb = is)

Okay, so buckle up now; we’re going to get really specific here. It’ll be okay, I promise. Stick with me and then we’ll go for ice cream.

When the words no, each, or every come before a subject, the verb is singular. And whenever you put two singular subjects together with or, nor, neither/nor, either/or, or not only/but also, the verb is singular again. Watch.

Every dog and cat is required to wear a collar.  or  No loitering or skulking is allowed.

Not only is Peter being naughty, but Sarah is also.  or  Either Paul or Jane is to blame.

If both subjects are plural and are connected by the words or, nor, neither/nor, either/or, or not only/but also, the verb is plural.

Pumpkins or flowers are sold at the farm stand, depending on the season.

Neither swimmers nor divers are allowed in the pool right now.

Just a couple more, I promise! Then you can start thinking about what flavor cone you want. I’m thinking mint chocolate chip or maybe . . . oh, whoops. Not yet!

If your subject is a gerund, it takes the singular form of the verb, but if you have two gerunds connected with and, they take the plural verb. Try these examples.

Fishing in the rapids is very dangerous.  but  Smoking and drinking to excess are bad for your health.

Collective nouns take a singular verb.

The crowd of patrons is screaming.  (subject = crowd; verb = is screaming)

Titles of books, movies, songs, etc. are considered singular and thus take a singular verb.

The Reivers is a great old movie.

One more and we are done. If one subject is singular and one is plural and they are linked with or, nor, neither/nor, either/or, or not only/but also, use the verb form of the subject that is nearest the verb. So how about this?

Neither the giraffe nor the polar bears are available for viewing at the zoo today. (closest subject = polar bears; verb = are)

Whew! We did it! There are other rules about subject-verb agreement, but remember I said quick and dirty, so this is all I’ll ask you to absorb this round Next time, we’ll talk pronouns and antecedents, okay? But for now, come on, you’ve earned your ice cream. I’m still thinking mint chocolate chip; how about you?


Join us on Wednesday for Ginger Monette!


Bio: Nan Reinhardt has been a copyeditor and proofreader for over 25 years, and currently works on romantic fiction titles for a variety of clients, including Avon Books, St. Martin’s Press, Kensington Books, Tule Publishing, and Entangled Publishing, as well as for many indie authors.

Nan is also writer of romantic fiction for women in their prime. Yeah, women still fall in love and have sex, even after 45! Imagine! She is a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and a grandmother. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, a secretary, and for the last 21 years, she’s earned her living as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader.

But writing is Nan’s first and most enduring passion. She can’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t writing—she wrote her first romance novel at the age of ten, a love story between the most sophisticated person she knew at the time, her older sister (who was in high school and had a driver’s license!), and a member of Herman’s Hermits. If you remember who they are, you are Nan’s audience! She’s still writing romance, but now from the viewpoint of a wiser, slightly rumpled, menopausal woman who believes that love never ages, women only grow more interesting, and everybody needs a little sexy romance.

Visit Nan’s website at, where you’ll find links to all her books as well as blogs about writing, being a Baby Boomer, and aging gracefully…mostly. Nan also blogs every Tuesday at Word Wranglers, sharing the spotlight with four other romance authors.


Twitter: @NanReinhardt

Talk to Nan at:

The Women of Willow Bay:

Carrie, whose life is turned upside down when the man she never got over suddenly reappears.

Julie, a widow who is learning to rebuild her life with the help of a sexy younger man.

Sophie, a freelance editor who discovers that friends also make great lovers…

And coming Summer 2017:

Sarah, a victim of domestic abuse, who finds a safe haven in the arms of Willow Bay’s deputy sheriff.

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13 Responses to “Can’t We All Just Agree to Agree? Part 1 by Nan Reinhardt”

  1. Fantastic overview and examples. Thank you. As moderator of an online critique group for romance writers, I’m seeing more and more manuscripts being submitted with basic grammatical errors throughout (likely because these concepts are no longer taught, or taught extensively, in school). I’ll certainly recommend your post to our members as a ‘refresher’ on subject-verb tense, and look forward to your next article.

    Posted by Margo Karolyi | May 15, 2017, 7:58 am
    • Thanks, for stopping by, Margo! Glad I could be of help. Sometimes, just seeing examples is a great way to learn a concept. I know this doesn’t get taught anymore, not sure why. Hope it helps your critique group! Next time, pronouns and antecedents!

      Posted by Nan | May 15, 2017, 8:31 am
  2. Easy peasy my @$$!

    Posted by T.C Winters | May 15, 2017, 8:45 am
  3. Thanks, Sandy! Glad to be of help! As I said earlier, sometimes, it’s just a matter of seeing some examples and suddenly, it’s all so clear. 😉 Happy you stopped by!

    Posted by Nan | May 15, 2017, 12:03 pm
  4. Hi Nan,

    I’m printing this post for future reference. Excellent examples! Thank you.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 15, 2017, 2:47 pm
  5. Evening Nan!

    Oh this just makes the hair on my arms stand up with memories of Ms. Clark in 7th grade. =) On the other hand, it’s stuff I need to know, and still struggle with to this day.

    Definitely keeping this in my print file, because I KNOW I’m going to need it!

    Great job Nan!


    Posted by Carrie Peters | May 15, 2017, 8:35 pm
  6. Great post. Including a link on Story Empire’s curated content post this Friday.

    Posted by Staci Troilo | May 18, 2017, 9:49 am

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