Subject–Verb Agreement, Compound Subjects

In the previous section, we learned the basic premise of subject–verb agreement and cases involving a simple subject. The subjects could be nouns or pronouns. You may recall that pronouns have brought in variety by their ability to act as a singular and/or plural noun based on the context. In this section, we move our attention to compound subjects.

At the end of this section, you will be able to validate agreement between the subject and its verb when

  • Compound subjects are connected by and, or, and not
  • Subjects are formed by correlative conjunctions

SVA 2.1 Compound subjects connected by and

When a compound subject is formed by connecting two subjects with and, the verb is plural.

  • Journal issues and conference proceedings contribute to the majority of the revenues for the publisher.

Journal issues and conference proceedings are the two subjects, making their combination plural.

However, recall from SVA 1.2 that each and every indicates a singular subject in phrases such as each and every x.

  • Each and every teacher prefers the 4-day-week idea.

Another exception is when two nouns come together to indicate a single object, such as bread and butter; such subjects are also considered singular.

  • Bread and butter is my favourite breakfast.
  • The nucleation and growth of nanoparticles has been widely researched lately.

Be careful! Bread and butter may indicate individual elements, as in a grocery list, in which case the subject is plural.

  • Bread and butter need to be stored in a refrigerator.
  • The nucleation and growth of nanoparticles indicate two stages that cannot be easily distinguished from one another.

SVA 2.2 Compound subjects connected by or

When a compound subject is formed by connecting two subjects with or, the verb is determined by the subject closer to the verb.

  • The property owner or the residents are expected to raise a complaint if there is a deviation.
  • The residents or the property owner is expected to raise a complaint if there is a deviation.

Warning: This subject may not always be the second one, as it is commonly misunderstood.

Remember our discussion on the formation of subjects in inversions? That the auxiliary verb appears before the subject. In this case, the verb will be determined by the first subject.

  • Is the property owner or the residents expected to raise a complaint if there is a deviation?
  • Are the residents or the property owner expected to raise a complaint if there is a deviation?

SVA 2.3 Compound subject formed with not

A compound subject may be formed with not or not. . . but . . . . In these cases, the positive subject determines the verb (that is, the subject followed by not is not considered for agreement).

  • The symptoms, not the cause, were addressed, leading to recurrent issues.
  • The cause, not the symptoms, was primarily focussed.

SVA 2.4 Compound subjects formed by other correlative conjunctions

When correlative conjunctions such as either/or, neither/nor, not only/but also, and whether/or are used to form compound subjects, the verb is determined by the subject closer to the verb.

  • Either the education minister or the ministers of state of the education department are expected to make a statement today.
  • Neither the sons nor the father has responded to the calls.

With both/and, the verb is plural.

  • Both self-poisoning and self-injury are not covered under this insurance policy.
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