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Basic Explanation of Subject and Verb Agreement



Some say that the most challenging part of IELTS Test is the IELTS Writing Test that consists of two Tasks. It really deals a lot with Grammar since it is the first and very crucial component of your writing. The most common mistake of Grammar that IELTS Test Takers always produce is Subject-Verb Agreement. The following mistake examples are taken from the some practice tests in the class:

“The diagram show how big the population in Someland”
“Giving all the food to all the children are really encouraged”
“The only reason that the members of the House gave for the people were not accepted”.


Let’s discuss what Agreement between subject and verb actually is. The following illustrations are only the fundamental brief and there will be another article that will expand further.

A. First, if a sentence has a singular subject it is followed by a singular verb, and if it has a plural one then it is followed by a plural verb; that is, the verb agrees with the subject. Compare:

  • She lives in China. 
  • More people live in Asia than in any other continent.

When the subject of the sentence is complex, the following verb must agree with the main noun in the subject. In the examples below, the subject is underlined and the main noun is circled. Notice how the verb, in italics, agrees with the main noun:

  • Many leading members of the opposition party have criticized the delay.
  • The only excuse that he gave for his actions was that he was tired.


The verb must agree with the subject when the subject follows the verb:

  • Among the people invited was the mayor. (compare The mayor was among…)
  • Displayed on the board were the exam results. (compare The exam results were displayed…)

B. Next, if the subject is a clause, we usually use a singular verb:


  • To keep these young people in prison is inhuman.
  • Having overall responsibility for the course means that I have a lot of meetings.
  • Whoever took them remains a mystery.
  • That Rangers won both matches was a great achievement.

However, if we use a what-clause as subject, we use a singular verb if the following main noun is singular, and either a singular or plural verb if the following main noun is plural (although a plural verb is preferred in more formal contexts):

  • What worries us is the poor selection process.
  • What is needed are additional resources.

C. Some nouns with a singular form, referring to groups of some kind, can be used with either a singular or plural form of the verb:


  • The council has (or have) postponed a decision on the new road.

We use a singular verb if the focus is on the institution or organization as a whole unit, and a plural verb if the focus is on a collection of individuals. In formal contexts such as IELTS Writing, it is more common to use 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 The committee usually raises its hands… as we are referring to the members not as a group).

D. When names and titles ending in –s refer to a single unit we use a singular verb. Examples include countries; newspapers; titles of books, films, etc.; and quoted plural words or phrases:

  • At this time of the year the Netherlands is one hour ahead of the UK.
  • The Los Angeles Times lists Derek Jones as the fifth richest man in the world.
  • The Machine Gunners was one of Robert Wetall’s most successful books.
  • ‘Daps’ is the word used in the south west of the country for sports shoes.


I hope you can apply the above basic rules of Subject-Verb Agreement in your IELTS Writing, both Tasks 1 and 2. Good luck!!


By Almio

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