We all follow a system of subject-verb agreement, even if we can’t define what subject-verb agreement is. If you listen to your speech and the speech of your family and friends, you’ll find that most people follow a fairly consistent pattern. For instance, you probably say she smiles and he laughs. In other words, you have your own unconscious rules about adding -s or -es on a verb when it’s in the present tense. But if your system differs from the one that is considered standard, you may want to make an adjustment in your writing.

The standard rules

Basically, subject-verb agreement is a problem only in the present tense. Here are the standard rules:

1. If the Subject Is Singular, Add -S or -Es to Your Verb

For example:

The subject suicide is singular (one), so we added an -s to the verb occur and produced occurs. Now we’ll make the subject plural (more than one) and see how the verb changes to agree with it:

The rule shown in (b) is this:

2. If the Subject Is Plural, Use the Base Verb

The word suicides is plural, so we used the base verb occur to agree with it. By base verb we mean a verb with no ending B no -s or -es, no -d or -ed, no -ing or any other ending.

Label the subject in each example below and fill in the standard form of the verb, choosing from live and lives:

1. The pint-sized sand cat ___________ on the extremely hot sand dunes of African, Asian, and Arabian deserts.

2. Pint-sized sand cats ___________ on the extremely hot sand dunes of African, Asian, and Arabian deserts.

If you used an -s in sentence 1 and the base verb in sentence 2, you’re on the right track.

Study these correct examples and read them aloud several times before you do the first exercise:

(a) a steak sizzles steaks sizzle

(b) the horse prances horses prance

(c) one light flickers five lights flicker

(d) the roof leaks roofs often leak

(e) the girl stretches the girls stretch

(f) a balloon pops balloons pop

(g) the group decides the groups decide

Exercise 6.1

Fill in each blank with the form of verb at right that agrees with the subject. Use the base verb or add -s or -es. For example:

the plan succeeds (succeed)

the plans succeed

1. a carpenter ___________ (build)

carpenters ___________

2. one star ___________ (shine)

all the stars ___________

3. the golfer ___________ (putt)

golfers ___________

4. roses ___________ (grow)

a rose ___________

5. the chimneys ___________ (smoke)

the chimney ___________

6. a pitcher ___________ (pitch)

pitchers ___________

7. one loaf ___________ (rise)

the loaves ___________

8. bombs ___________ (explode)

a bomb ___________

9. the popside ___________ (melt)

popsicles ___________

10. last-minute shoppers ___________ (rush)

a last-minute shopper ___________