Tip #172: Subject-verb agreement (with either/neither/and)

Today’s post sheds a bit of light on a writing topic that comes easily to some authors, and perplexes others. This tip is all about subject-verb agreement. Since there are a number of rules about this topic, I will break them up into several posts. 

The basics:
You must first be able to identify the subject and verb of a sentence. Sometimes these are quite easy to find, but when the sentences become more complex, this task is a bit more challenging. 

The number one rule to remember is: subject and verbs must agree in number and person. If you can keep that in mind, once you identify the subject and verb, you will do fine.



Babies cry when they are hungry. (Subject: Babies / Verb: cry)

A baby cries when it is hungry. (Subject: A baby / Verb: cries)

These are basic sentences with one singular subject. Easy enough. 

baby and mother

But what about when the sentence has two singular subjects?

Examples: (Neither/nor; Either/or)

Neither a baby nor its mother needs exposure to cigarette smoke. (Singular Subject: Neither / Singular Verb: needs)
The word “Neither” is the subject here, and  a singular verb is needed.

Either your room or your dog needs a bath. (Singular Subject: Either / Singular Verb: needs)
The word “Either” gives away what the necessary verb is here. 


When one of the subjects is singular and the other is plural, the plural subject is placed closest to the verb. And the verb is plural.

Either Sean or his parents need to call me about the damage done to my car. (parents need)

Neither Sean nor his parents want to deal with my lawyer. (parents want)


What about plural subjects? The verb is plural.

Neither expectant mothers nor their babies need exposure to cigarette smoke. (babies need)

Either cats or dogs make nice house pets. (dogs make)


It’s easy to tell what verb to use when the word “and” is used to join two (or more) singular or plural subjects. The “and” automatically makes the verb plural, because it represents “more than one.”

The dogs and the kids make a mess in the house.

Our kids and the dogs make a mess in the house.

The dog and our kids make a mess in the house.
Even when you have a singular subject and a plural subject combined by “and”, remember to place the plural subject closer to the verb, and the verb must be plural.

A baby and its mother need time to bond.  
The word “and” makes all the difference here because it causes the subjects to be combined, forming a plural; therefore, the verb must be plural.


Hopefully, I provided enough examples here today to eliminate any confusion about subject/verb agreement when it concerns the use of “either/or” “neither/nor” and “and.” (Yeah, that looks a bit weird written that way.)


Do you all have any questions about subject-verb agreement concerning “neither” “either” or “and”? Feel free to ask in the comments below.

In case you missed it yesterday



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  • StephenGeez

    I hope you will get to the very common mistake that irks me every time I see it: using a plural pronoun to refer to a singular subject: SomeONE shouted and THEY scared me. EACH rule is important, so I follow THEM. When someBODY does this wrong, I will catch THEM every time. Aaargh. People who can’t keep their nouns consistent often can’t keep their subject/verb agreement straight, either. They are closely related.

    Thanks, Traci.

    • Traci Sanders

      I do intend to offer several posts that deal with subject-verb agreement, and I plan to touch on that topic for sure. As you know, there are a lot of rules concerning subject-verb agreement. Thanks!

  • Tip #173: Then vs. Than – A Word With Traci

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