Subject-Verb Agreement with Compound Subjects
This month’s topic is an offshoot of subject-verb agreement: how to make your subject and verbs agree when your subject involves more than one thing (a “compound subject”). That’s easy, right? Shouldn’t more than one thing mean it’s a plural subject and the verb should be plural? Sometimes, but not always. Let’s look at some examples.
When a subject is linked by the word “and,” the verb is typically plural.
Throat lozenges, hot tea, honey, and smoking cessation help improve the cough.
The subject is a list of multiple things that all help improve this patient’s cough—these multiple things take a plural verb.
An exception to this is if the words joined by “and” are thought of as one thing:
Suction dilation and curettage is performed.
Dilation and curettage is the name of one procedure, not two separate procedures. Even though it includes “and,” it gets a singular verb because it is one thing.
What if your subjects are joined by “and” but you’re not sure if they’re one entity or multiple? Try swapping in a simpler noun to help clarify the sentence:
These items [help/helps] improve the cough.
The procedure [is/are] performed.
How about subjects joined by “or,” which is often seen in lists? Here’s how to handle their associated verbs:
1. Use a singular verb if all items in the subject are singular:
An NP, PA, or doctor is in the room.
2. Use a plural verb if all items are plural:
Some NPs, PAs, or doctors are needed to weigh in on this subject.
3. If there’s a mix of singular and plural subjects, match the verb to the closest noun:
The NP, PA, or doctors are going to be here later.
“Doctors” is the plural noun closest to the verb.
Neither the PAs nor the NP is scheduled today.
“The NP” is the singular noun closest to the verb.
An even simpler way to think about subjects joined by “or” is to just match the noun closest to the verb. If the noun is plural, use a plural verb, and use a singular verb if the noun is singular.
There you have it! If your subjects are joined by “and,” multiple items take a plural verb while singular entities take a singular verb. If your subjects are joined by “or,” match the verb to the closest noun.