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Lucas Fink

SAT Subject–Verb Agreement

When working on any type of SAT writing question, you should be watching for verbs that are underlined. Of course, part of the reason for that is that the SAT tests tense problems, but there’s also the matter of subject–verb agreement.


What does subject-verb agreement mean?

Let’s look at some simple examples. Which is correct?

Rihanna win hot-dog eating competitions all the time.

Rihanna wins hot-dog eating competitions all the time.

The verb win has to match up with the subject of the sentence, Rihanna, which means it has to have an s at the end, like in the second sentence. Even if you think these sentences sound alright without the s, they’re not proper English; you can’t write them like that—definitely not on the SAT.

If the subject is singular (he, it, the pope, white-pepper ice cream), then it needs a singular verb (does, was, is prancing, has congealed).

If the subject is plural (they, we, the Spice Girls), then it needs a plural verb (do, are speeding, have mutated).


Subjects separated from their verbs

The verb may not be next to its subject like it is in the examples above. Instead, it might be separated by a pretty big chunk of text.

The results of the contest, hotly debated by the members of the audience, was announced soon after the first contestant became sick.

If you haven’t already noticed the problem there, take a look at the verb “was announced.” Can you find the subject that it refers to? It’s all the way back at the beginning of the sentence.

Since that subject—the results—is plural, the verb should be “were announced.”


Neither, either, everyone, everything, and each are singular

Some nouns aren’t so clear in number. “Everything” sounds like a lot, right? So it should be plural, right? Well, no.

All of the words listed above refer to the individual pieces of a group. The verbs that get paired with them will also be singular to reflect that.

Neither of us think that competitive eating is a good career choice for pop singers.

Neither of us thinks

Everyone who watched the show were simultaneously entranced and disgusted.

Everyone who watched the show was

These can be especially tricky, so keep an eye out.


Automatically check for matches

Every time you see a verb whose subject isn’t immediately obvious, go back and find it in the sentence. Do it again and again until it’s second nature. It should only take a fraction of a second by the time you’re doing it on your SAT.


About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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