Matching subjects and verbs

Matching up singular or plural subjects with singular or plural forms of a verb is part of the process called agreement. This is easy in simple sentences: 

He admits that he is worried. [singular subject and verb]
They admit that they are worried. [plural subject and verb]
 
but there are some cases where the grammar is not so straightforward.
 

Compound subjects 

 
Two nouns joined by and are normally treated as plural and take a plural verb:

Speed and accuracy are top of the list.

When the subject of the sentence is a single noun followed by another element tagged on by a phrase such as accompanied by, as well as, or together with, then the verb should be singular and not plural. In these cases, it's the singular noun that is the true subject:

The little girl, together with her friend Kerry, was filling her bucket with sand.

[subject]                                                          [singular verb]

 

Your booking form, accompanied by a cheque, needs to reach us by Monday.

[subject]                                                          [singular verb]

One easy way to check the agreement in these cases is to think of the sentence without the extra element: The little girl …was…; Your booking form …needs …

 
More complex sentences can be trickier because they are grammatically ambiguous. For example:
 
More than one in ten health club members ?admit/?admits to joining a gym for social reasons.
 
At first glance, the subject of this sentence may appear to be singular. But it’s actually plural (i.e., members rather than one member). You should use the plural form of the verb—i.e., admit:
 
More than one in ten health club members admit to joining a gym for social reasons.

 

On the other hand, the subject of the following sentence may appear to be plural (i.e. the Internet and email):

The arrival of the Internet and email ?make/?makes communication with family so much easier.

But it's actually singular (the arrival), so you should use the singular verb makes.

In cases like these, if you aren't sure, try replacing the subject of the sentence with an appropriate pronoun  (in the latter case, the singular pronoun it):

It makes communication …

It make communication …

 

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