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VERBS : What is a Verb? : Verbs - Person & Number : Shall / Will (usage) : Active Voice : Passive Voice : Verb Tenses : Rules for Verb Tenses : Mood : Imperative Mood : Indicative Mood : Subjunctive Mood : Intransitive Verbs : Transitive Verbs : Linking Verbs : Most Troublesome Verbs

Rules for Verbs—
Person and Numbers

We already understand that nouns and pronouns have two numbers, the singular and the plural; that is, they mean either one person or thing, or more than one. You can also classify some pronouns according to the person which they represent: the person is speaking, or the person is being spoken to, or the person is spoken of. To see the similarities between pronouns and verbs, we can arrange these pronouns according to the following table, which shows the person and number of each:

Singular Number Plural Number
First Person I We
Second Person You You
Third Person he, she, it they

Since nouns almost always name the person spoken of, we refer to them as the third person, singular or plural.

Do verbs also have person and number? Let us see. Let us use each of the pronouns in the above table as the subject of the same verb, the verb is in its various forms, and let us see if English grammar allows us to change the verb as the subject.

Singular Number Plural Number
First Person I am We are
Second Person You are You are
Third Person He (or she or it) is They are


We see that the verb is has one form (am) to go with the first person singular subject. We have another form (are) to go with the second person singular subject. We have a third form (is) to go with the third person singular subject. In the plural we use the same form (are) to go with subjects of all three persons.

Since verbs in some instances change their form as their subjects change in person and number, we can agree that a verb agrees with its subject in person and number.

Let's look at these examples:

EX.— This book tells about pirates. (The verb tells is third person, singular number, to agree with its subject, pirates, which is third person, singular number.)

EX.— These books tell about South Carolina. (The verb tell is third person, plural number, to agree with its subject, South Carolina, which is third person, plural number.)

EX.— I shall go to the amusement park. (The verb shall go is first person, singular number, to agree with its subject, I.)

EX.— You, Brian, will go sometime this afternoon. (The verb will go is second person, singular number, to agree with its subject, you.)

EX.— I have been in New Jersey, but he has been in Spain. (The verb have been is first person, singular number, to agree with its subject, I; and the verb has been is third person, singular number, to agree with (he).

Verbs make comparatively few changes in form as their subjects change in person and number, but those few are important.

Correct use of Person and Number

Person and NumbersLet us review the practical rules to help us avoid errors when we speak or write using verbs according to person and number.

(1) A verb agrees with its subject in person and number.

EX.— This kind of flower sprouts rapidly. (The subject, kind, is singular; the verb, sprouts, is singular.)

EX.— The smell of fresh chocolate chip cookies fills the air. (The subject, smell, is singular; the verb,fills, is singular.)

EX.— I don't understand this math equation. (The subject, I, is first person, singular; the verb, don't understand, is first person, singular.)

EX.— He doesn't understand the stock market. (The subject, he, is third person, singular; the verb, doesn't understand, is third person, singular.)

(2) Singular subjects joined by and usually take a plural verb.

EX.— Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were programming computers at young ages.

EX.— Brian and Danielle are going horseback riding.

EX.— The restaurant, the car, and the umbrellas are burning.

(3) Singular subjects joined by and, but referring to a single person only or expressing a single idea, are followed by a singular verb.

EX.— The president and CEO of the company is in his spacious office. (One person.)

EX.— The purpose and intent of the verdict is clear. (The two subjects express a single idea.)

EX.— Icecream and cookies is my usual late night snack. (Two singular subjects are taken together as one thing; hence the singular verb.)

(4) Singular subjects joined by and but preceded by each, every, many a, or no take a singular verb. Thus:

EX.— Each boy and girl reads his own essay.

EX.— Every man, woman, boy, and girl attends this festival.

EX.— No man or woman believes this policy.

EX.— Many a hunter and fisherman visits this forest every year.

(5) Singular subjects joined by or or nor take the verb in the singular.

EX.— Brian or Steven is going to the party.

EX.— Neither the father nor the mother is collecting health insurance.

EX.— Neither ammunition nor food is left.

(6) A singular subject followed by words that are joined to it by with, together with, as well as, in addition to, takes a singular verb.

EX.— The chief of police, with some of his officers, is on duty.
EX.— Timothy, as well as half several other boys, is hiking.
EX.— The entire bus, with all its passengers, was destroyed.

(7) A singular subject takes a singular verb, even if one or more plural words come between the subject and its verb.

EX.— No one except the ticket holders is admitted.

EX.— Every one of us is anxious to build a business.

EX.— The story of his many tales makes interesting reading.

EX.— The famous museum with its thousands of artifacts was destroyed.

(8) In a sentence beginning with the introductory word there the verb is singular if the subject is singular, and plural if the subject is plural.
EX.— There are many different landmarks in the world. (not: There is different landmarks in the world.)

EX.— There is a great quantity of computers at the tradeshow.
EX.— There are all sorts of cats and dogs at the pet shop.

(9) The meaning rather than the form of the subject controls the number of the verb.

EX.— The movie, "The Godfather" was directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
EX.— Fifty dollars is too much for those sneakers.

EX.— The committee is ready to boycott. (The committee consists of several persons, but we refer to it here as one group.)

EX.— The committee are in the hallway, laughing and talking. (We refer to the individuals that make the group.)

EX.— My family is on vacation with me.

EX.— My family are all healthy.

EX.— The news on the Internet was current.

EX.— Journalism is my favorite subject this year.

EX.— Tennis is my favorite sport.

EX.— There is plenty of hotdogs for all. (Plenty considered as quantity.)

EX.— There are plenty of apples for all. (Plenty considered as number.)

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VERBS : What is a Verb? : Verbs - Person & Number : Shall / Will (usage) : Active Voice : Passive Voice : Verb Tenses : Rules for Verb Tenses : Mood : Imperative Mood : Indicative Mood : Subjunctive Mood : Intransitive Verbs : Transitive Verbs : Linking Verbs : Most Troublesome Verbs





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