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Pronouns as subject

1. Indefinite pronouns (somebody, someone, anybody), universal pronouns (everybody, everyone, everything, each, either), negative pronouns (nobody, no one, neither, etc.) take a singular predicate.

Somebodyis asking for you.

Nobodyhas come except me.

Eachhas answered well.

However, none has a plural verb-predicate.

Nonewere here.

None of usunderstand it.

None of themhave come.


Withany of, each of, either of, neither of, ornone of and aplural noun we can use a singular or plural verb. However, we prefer a singular verb in careful written English.


I don't thinkany of them knows(or know) where the money is hidden.

Neither of the French athletes has(or have) won this year.

Everyone of usis present.

Neither of the studentshas made a mistake.

All in the sense of has a singular verb, while all in the sense of takes a plural verb.

Allis well that ends well.

All that glittersis not gold.

Allwere in favour of the plan.


2. Interrogative pronouns who, what take a singular verb-predicate.

Whohas come? Whatis there?

But if the pronoun denotes more than one person or thing a plural verb-predicate is used.

Whoare walking in the garden?

Whohave agreed to act?

3. With relative pronouns the form of the verb depends on the noun or pronoun which is its antecedent.

Do you know the girl wholives next door?
(The girl lives...)

Do you know the girls wholive next door?

(The girls live...)

Mary is one of those girls who neverknow what they will do next.

Even I, whohave seen it all, can hardly believe it.

It is you whoare right. It is I whoam wrong.

But: Its me whois wrong.

4. The universal pronoun both has a plural verb-predicate.

Which of the letters are yours? Bothare mine.

Notional agreement


Notional agreement is to be found in the following cases:

1. In modern English agreement there may be a conflict between form and meaning. It refers first of all to subjects expressed by nouns of multitude, which may denote plurality being singular in form. In such cases the principle of grammatical agreement is not observed and there appears the so-callednotional agreement, when the choice of the number is based on the fact whether the group of beings is considered as one whole or as a collection of individuals taken separately (as discrete ones).

Thus, the nouns of multitude (the collective nouns) (band, board, crew, committee, crowd, cavalry, company, clergy, cattle, family, gang, group, guard gentry, infantry, police, poultry, team) may have both a plural verb-predicate and a singular one depending on what is meant a single undivided body or a group of separate individuals.

Other words like this include army, association, audience, class, club, college, community, crowd, delegation, department, electorate, enemy, firm, flock, generation, government, herd, jury, orchestra, party, population, press, public, school, staff, team, university, and the names of specific organisations such as Congress, Parliament, the Bank of England, the , IBM, Sony. We use a singular verb if we see the institution or organisation as a whole unit, and a plural verb if we see it as a collection of individuals. Often you can use either with very little difference in meaning, although in formal writing (such as academic writing) it is more common to use a singular verb.

In American English collective nouns almost always go with a singular verb.

In some contexts a plural form of the verb is needed. We would say:

The committee usually raise their hands to vote Yes, (not ...raises its hands...)
as this is something that the individuals do, not the committee as a whole.

In others, a singular form is preferred. We would say:

The school is to close next year. (not The school are...)

as we are talking about something which happens to the school as a building or institution, not to the individuals that comprise it.

Myfamilyare very angry with me: they think I should go to university.

The average familyhas 3.5 members: it is much smaller than in 1900.

Theteamare going to lose again.They're useless.

A cricket teamis made up of eleven players, includingits captain.

A new governmenthas been formed.

The governmenthave asked me to go, so I am leaving now.

It was now nearly eleven o'clock and the congregation were arriving.

The congregationwas small.

How are your family?

Our familyhas alwaysbeen a very happy one.

The commanding officer does not know where his cavalry is and his cavalryare not completely sure of their situation.

The crowdwas enormous.

The crowdwere silent.

The cattleis in the mountains.

The cattlehave stopped grazing. They know before you hear any sound that planes are approaching.

The jurydecides whether the accused is guilty or not.

While the jurywere out, some of the public went out for breath of fresh air.


The nouns police, people, and staff always have a plural verb.


The weather was warm, and the people were sitting at their doors.

The staff (= they) aren't happy withtheir new working conditions.

The policehave arrested Tom.

Are the police well paid?


2. A noun in the plural denoting time, measure, weight or distance, when the noun represents the amount or mass as a whole has a singular verb-predicate.

Five thousand pounds (= it) was stolen in the robbery. (not were stolen)

Three years (= it) is a long-time to be without a job. (not are)

Four hundred miles was a huge distance when a man was no longer, young and had no means.

Three dollarsis the sum laid aside for all other purposes and pleasures.

Twenty-one years is a longish time, lad, but memory is longer and deeper and stronger than time.


3. Notional agreement is also observed with subjects expressed by a syntactic word-group the first element of which denotes an indefinite number or amount, such as a number of..., a variety of..., the majority of, the rest of, a lot of..., a plenty of..., a mass of... etc., the predicate may be in the singular or in the plural. In most cases the form of the predicate depends on the form and meaning of the second element, which from a semantic point of view is the dominant element of the word-group.


With any of, none of, the majority of, a lot of, plenty of, all (of), some (of) and an uncountable noun we use a singular verb.

All the furniture was destroyed in the fire.

There is a lot of truth in that, said Johnson cautiously.

With a/the majority of, a number of, a lot of, a plenty of, all (of), or some (of) and a plural noun we use a plural verb.

A number of refugees have been turned back at the border.

A number of usare worried about it.

There are a couple of children outside.

A lot ofthemwerelate.

The rest of themembers are ill.

A number of cars were parked on the lot before a two-storey building.

A number of Connoisseurs were sitting and standing about.

There were a number of paper-covered booklets too.

The majority of the old seamen are but little moved by such graven beauty.

The vast majority of men and women were not essentially above slavery even when they had all the guarantees of a constitution formulated to prevent it.

A lot of people are coming.

There are a lot of things still for you to believe," says Mr. Eversham, beaming.

The troubles and hardships of warwere over, but therewere stillplenty of others to be coped with.

Therewereplenty of rooms at the hotel.




The nouns number and variety may retain their concrete meaning (, ) and serve as subject of the sentence. In this case they are used with the definite article; the of-phrase that follows them is a separate part of the sentence an attribute to the subject. The predicate is naturally in the singular as it agrees with the subject the number, the variety.


They tell me thatthe number of teachers in townhas not increased in years.

Her acquaintance was fairly large, the number of her intimates was small.


4. Afterper cent (alsopercent or %) we use a singular verb:


An inflation rate of only 2 per centmakes a big difference to exports.

Around 10 per cent of the forest is destroyed each year.



However, in phrases where we can useof + plural noun we use a plural verb:


I would say that about 50 per cent of the houses need major repairs.

Of those interviewed, only 20 per cent (= of people interviewed) admit no smoking.


But where we use a singular noun that can be thought of either as a whole unit or a collection of individuals, we can use a singular or plural verb:


Some 80 per cent of the electorateis expected to vote. (or...are expected...)


5. Subjects expressed by invariable plural nouns (the Latin term pluralia tantum is applied to them) have a plural verb-predicate. Here belong nouns indicating articles of dress consisting of two parts (tights, trousers, pyjamas, pants, shorts, trunks, drawers, braces, jeans), tools and instruments consisting of two parts (glasses, spectacles, scissors, tongs, pincers, scales, fetters) and also miscellaneous other nouns (goods, contents, riches, clothes, wages, eaves, belongings, congratulations, earnings, outskirts, particulars (= information), premises (= building), savings, stairs, surroundings, thanks, proceedings, hangings, home-comings, whereabouts, troops, etc).

His wageswere only 75 shillings a week.

I asked her what the contentswere about.

His clotheswere shabby.

The goods were delivered on time.

6. Subjects expressed by invariable singular nouns (the Latin term singularia tantum is applied to them) have a singular verb-predicate. Here belong all names of materials (iron, copper, sand, coal, bread, cheese, oil, wine, tea, chalk) and also a great number of other nouns (hair, money, information, funeral, progress, advice, accommodation, baggage, luggage, behavior, chaos, furniture, permission, scenery, traffic, trouble, weather, work).

Her hairis beautiful.

The moneyis mine.

The informationwas unusually interesting.

If the funeralis so detestable to you, you don't have to go to it.

The corresponding Russian nouns used as subjects are either plural invariables (, ) or have both the singular and the plural forms ( - , - ).

7. Subjects expressed by invariable nouns ending in -s and denoting an indivisible notion or thing have a singular verb-predicate: measles, mumps, billiards, dominoes, linguistics, economics, news, headquarters, works, summons.

No newsis good news.

The new works thathas been built in our districtis very large.

Though nouns in-ics which are names of sciences and other abstract notions have a singular agreement when used in their abstract sense; they may have a plural verb-predicate when denoting qualities, practical applications, different activities, etc. (ethics moral rules, gymnastics physical exercises). Thus these nouns may be followed by either a singular or a plural verb.



a branch of science


collected numbers, figures representing facts


Statisticsis a rather modern branch of mathematics.

These statisticsshow deaths per 1,000 of population.

Statistics on this subject are available.


the art of arranging military forces for battle




Tacticsis one of the subjects studied in military academies.

Your tacticsare obvious. Please, don't insult my intelligence.

a profession


political affairs, political ideas


Politicsis a risky profession.

Politicshave always interested me.

Whatare your politics?

the art of making bricks, pots, etc.


articles produced in this way


Ceramicsis my hobby.

Where he lives isn't the provinces as far as ceramicsare concerned, it's the metropolis.

Exercise 1. Explain why the predicate-verb is used in the singular or in the plural.



1. The Durhamfamily were at breakfast, father, mother and seven children. (O'Conor)

2. He further intimated that theUnited States was so interested in its own internal affairs that it would not be drawn into the question. (Graves)

3. Herfather and mother... wereobviouslyhaunted and harassed. (Galsworthy)

4. The top of a low black cabinet,the old oaktable, the chairsin tawny leather,were littered with the children's toys, books, and garden garments. (Eliot)

5. To labour in peace,anddevote her labour and her life to her poor son, was allthe widow sought. (Dickens)

6. To leave the quiet court, to gain the Strand, to hail a belated hansom was the work of a moment. (Thurston)

7. And herewas a man, was experience and culture. (Galsworthy)

8. Besides the chair at the writing-table thereis an easy-chairatthe medicine table,and a chair at each side of the dressing table. (Shaw)

9. The wind drove down the rain and everywhere therewas standing water and mud. (Hemingway)

10. Who were to be the subjects of their piracies was a matter that did not occur to him. (Twain)

11. Mrs. Gowan, who was engaged in needlework, put her work aside in a covered basket, and rose a little hurriedly. (Dickens)

12. Near them were the oldpeople who were watching the dancing. (Abrahams)

13. She (Lillian) looked at his handsomeface, which was turned to hers, with childlike simplicity. (Dreiser)

14. This gentleman told me of two recentevents in his life,which were of some importance and which had not previously reached my ears. (Collins)

15. "Who is to apply to her for permission?" I asked. (Collins)

16. Tom called: "Hold!Who comes here into Sherwood Forest without my pass? (Twain)

17. What was there in him that could make him feel that shameful impulse in Regan's office? (Wilson)

18. In turneach of these four brotherswas very different from the other, yet they, too, were alike. (Galsworthy)

19. Everybody was glad to see Martin back. (London)

20. Therewas something in her silence which disconcerted him. (Galsworthy)

21. Nobody was at home Soames in London, Annette at a garden party. (Galsworthy).

22. "Therewas nothing to attract attention or excite alarm in this. (Dickens)

23. Andrew and I were alone. (Abrahams)

24. I knew thatmatter and spirit were one. (Bennett)

25. He consoled himself with the idea that perhapshumanity was better than he thought. (Dreiser)

26. Well,what is mankind, then, Mrs. Jenkins? I asked her."Mankind is all of as" Mrs. Jenkins said, "you and me and everybody you can, think of all over the world.That is mankind."(Llewellyn)

27. "I belong to a church that is older and better than the English Church," Mr. Holt said... "in our church theclergy do not marry." (Thackeray)

28. Thepolice are all over the place. (Kennedy)

29. At the present time, too many commercialcattle are bred with no particular end in view. (Garner)

30. As experimental animalspoultry have their excellent points.(Hagedeorn)

31. ...the branchcommittee was meeting in the room of a textile trade union. (Lindsay)

32. ...I am glad to tell you, Doctor Manson ... that thecommittee have decided by a majority to ask you to remain. (Cronin)

33. The company was thencomplete, twenty-one in all. (Galsworthy)

34. "One of them might have slipped into the hall, in the confusion, when the dinnercompany were going away," says Mr. Franklin. (Collins)

35. The Board was againfull ... (Galsworthy)

36. The board were sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr. Bumble rushed into the room in great excitement... (Dickens)

37. "Michael followed with the Upshires and Aubrey Green, whom he had encountered in the hall.The party was completed. (Galsworthy)

38. The meal over,the party were free to run and play in the meadows. (Ch. Bronte)

39. ...the band was beginning to play a selection from the music of Grieg. (Hichens)

40. When we came to the house we found thatthe band had arrived andwere standing about in the hall. (Du Maurier)

Exercise 2. Explain why the predicate verb is used in the singular or in the plural.

1. The family were still at table, but they had finished breakfast. (Twain) 2. There was a crowd of soldiers along the fence in the infield. (Hemingway) 3. ... the band was stopped, the crowd were partially quieted, and Horatio Fizkin, Esquire, was permitted to proceed. (Dickens) 4. Down by the Embankment... a band of unemployed were trailing dismally with money-boxes. (Galsworthy) 5. The multitude have something else to do than to read hearts and interpret dark sayings. (Ch. Bront) 6. The newly married pair, on their arrival in Harley Street, Cavendish Square, London were received by the chief butler. (Dickens). 7. There was a dreaminess, a preoccupation, an exaltation, in the maternal look which the girl could not understand. (Hardy) 8. The companyare cool and calm. (Dickens) 9. As of old, nineteen hours of laboura day was all too little to suit him. (London) 10. Therewere still two hours of daylight before them. (Aldington) 11. At last they came into a maze of dust, where a quantity of peoplewere tumbling over one another... (Dickens) 12. Tom's whole classwere of a pattern-restless, noisy and troublesome. (Twain) 13. A group of men were standing guarded by carabinieri. (Hemingway) 14. The loving couplewere no longer happy. (Reade)

Exercise 3. Explain why the predicate verb is used in the singular or in the plural.

1. Ten years is a long time.

2. Another five minutes goes by.

3. A million francs is a lot of money.

4. It was Sunday and a number of people were walking about.

5. In Elisabeth's reign the bulk of English vegetable supplies were imported from Holland.

6. The number of pages in this bookisn't large.

7. Athleticsis my favourite sport.

8. What timeisthe news on television?

9. Ten pounds istoo much to pay.

10. Three weekswasn'tenough holiday.

11. About threemetres separates the runners in first and second places.

12. The fifty pounds he gave me was soon spent.

13. Thenews from the Middle East seems very encouraging.

14. Jean and David are moving back to Australia.

15. Meat pie and peas is Tom's favourite at the moment.

16. Either the stationor the cinema is a good place to meet.

17. Neither the Presidentnor his representatives are to attend the meeting.

18. Every room has its own bathroom.

19. The boys have each drawn a picture.

20. Practicallyeveryone thinks that Judith should be given the job.

21. Herpolitics are bordering on the fascist.

22. Statistics are able to prove anything you want them to.

23. Theeconomics behind their policies are unreasonable.

24. Politics is popular at this university.

25. Statistics was always my worst subject.

26. Economics has only recently been recognised as a scientific study.

Exercise 4. Choose the best combination for each blank.


class is club has orchestra is school has staff do
class are club have   orchestra are school have staff does


1a In England, a state_________________ to give time to religious education.

1b My daughter's ______________decided to hold their sports day next Saturday.

2a The _________________ given £5,000 to charity this year.

2b The _________________ fifty per cent more members than a year ago.

The _________________ not like the new manager.

3b The _________________ not need to be increased.

4a Jane's __________________ in Room 6.

4b Our _________________ planning a party.

5a The _________________ just tuning up let's hurry in.

5b An _________________ composed of string, wind and percussion instruments.



Exercise 5. Choose the correct form of the cartoon caption.


Its the office. Shall I tell it/them/ him you're sick?'



Exercise 6. In the following sentences (a) underline the complex noun that is the subject; (b) circle the main noun in the subject; and (c) write the verb in brackets in the space either as a singular verb or plural verb so that it agrees with the main noun. (A)

1 The issues which have been considered in the previous section ......allow...... us to speculate on problems that learners might encounter. (allow)

2 Smuggling illegal immigrants out of Mexico ..................... against the law. (be)

3 The country's first general election since it won independence ..................... to be held next month. (be)

4 The only people who are interested in the book ..................... to be lawyers. (seem)

5 The view of the manufacturing and tourist industries ..................... that the economy is improving. (be)

6 An early analysis of the results ..................... that the Socialists have won. (show)

7 Reliance only on written tests of English to measure language ability ..................... to be a cheap option. (appear)


Exercise 7. Complete the following extracts from newspapers with either was/were or has/have. If both singular and plural forms are possible, write them both.

1. The crowd .. growing restless as the day got hotter.

2. Sony .. announced rising profits for the third year running.

3. The police .. issued a warrant for Adamson's arrest.

4. When she was found, her face was bruised and her clothes . torn.

5. The public ............... a right to know how the money is to be spent.

6. Thomas was thought to be in Spain, although his exact whereabouts ............ unknown.

7. The stairs leading to the exit steep and dangerous, said the report.

8. Lord Travers' family .. lived in the house for twelve generations.

9. The college . spent over £500,000 on a new sports centre.

10. People . running in all directions, trying to get away.

Exercise 8. Correct any mistakes in these sentences or put a if they are already correct.

1. The island's politics is complex, with over twelve parties competing for power.

2. Gymnasts from over 40 countries are competing in Madrid this weekend.

3. Economics has become an increasingly popular course at university.

4. The latest news of the earthquake survivors are very disturbing.

5. Jim's politics has changed considerably since he was in his twenties.

6. Diabetes are an illness caused by too much sugar in the blood.

7. Recent government statistics show a sharp decline in crime.

8. Women's gymnastics are no longer dominated by eastern Europeans.

9. Statistics are now compulsory for all students taking a course in engineering.

10. Most years, over three hundred athletes competes in the games.

11. The economics of the plan is worrying investors.

12. Measles is still a fairly serious childhood disease in some countries.

Exercise 9. Complete the sentences with either is/are or has/have. If both singular and plural forms are possible, write them both.


1. A number of shoppers ............... complained about the price increases.

2. I can assure you that everything ............... perfectly safe.

3. Either of the dentists............... available. Which one do you want to see?

4. The majority of primary school teachers............... women.

5. Each of Susan's colleagues ............... sent her a personal letter of support.

6. Although some people find cricket boring, each match ............... different.

7. We've got two cars, but neither of them ............... particularly new.

8. All the office staff............... agreed to work late tonight to get the job finished.

9. A lot of the pollution ............... caused by the paper factory on the edge of town.

10. None of the TV programmes ............... worth watching tonight.

11. Researchers have reported that neither of the so-called environmentally friendly fuels ............... less damaging than petrol or diesel.

12. I hope everyone ............... a good holiday. See you next term.

13. The number of pupils in school with reading difficulties ............... fallen this year.

14. Some people ............... the strangest hobbies. My brother collects bottles'

15. None of the information ............... particularly useful to me.

Exercise 10. Write sentences from these notes. Choose is or are as the verb in each case. If you can use either is or are, put both.

1. Prime Minister / her deputy / opening the debate.

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