Grammar Guide: Subject-Verb Agreement

Hints and resources for grammar remediation that won't leave you bogged down in jargon.

By Elijah Ammen


Students working on grammar exercises

This is part two of a six-part series that focuses on various grammar topics. Check the Lesson Planet Community each Wednesday for the next installment.

Like many of you, I teach in a public school where my students can easily be three or four reading levels behind where they should be. At my school, the average ninth grader comes to us at a fifth grade reading level. This means a significant amount of scaffolding is necessary, and you have to pick and choose what concepts and targets are the most beneficial and will reap the most results.

Because of that, we have what I term "The Grammar Conundrum." (I see it like an old-timey news update, followed by a segment on "The Communist Menace.") It used to be that most of your English class was diagramming sentences on a blackboard. It was a staple of the classroom, but has fallen out of style—probably because we live in a society that keeps changing the language to fit their mistakes (did you know that "literally" now means "figuratively" according to multiple dictionaries?). English classes spend less time on grammar, and often try to teach grammar in context with reading and writing.

That's a great thing. I myself learned most grammar and punctuation through an incessant amount of reading as a child. But when you are trying remediation with a teenager who has never read a full book in his or her life, it is necessary to have a few extra tools and resources.

That's what this grammar guide is for—it is by no means an exhaustive grammar resource, or even an outline for how to teach the concepts for the first time. This guide provides hints for mastering the most important information and resources for instruction and remediation. These are great resources for pull-out teachers or for bellringers and mini-lessons.

Helpful Hints for Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb agreement is a struggle for many young people, because they often don't catch the mistake when reading it aloud. The way many people talk is incorrect, and my classes struggle to understand why "We is going to the store" is incorrect or why "We be doing all this grammar stuff" at all. Here are some key points to hit with your instruction:

  • Find the subject and verb phrase. Assume nothing. It seems like a no-brainer to you, but many high schoolers struggle with this basic concept. Get your class in the habit of constantly annotating sentences. Verbs that are trickier for many students verbs like to be because they don't express an action, which is usually all that pupils remember from a formal definition.
  • The key phrase you need to repeat is that subjects and verbs need to both be plural or both be singular. Don't present exceptions right away. Hammer this point until every kid can repeat it.
  • Show the class how nouns and verbs have different rules for making a word plural or singular. Show how for nouns, you often add an s while verbs usually remove an s (the velociraptor runs vs. the velociraptors run).
  • When you get to exceptions, the main issue is collective nouns and indefinite pronouns. Collective nouns (team, audience, company, family, etc.) are treated as singular. Even though they have multiple people, they are considered a singular group. Indefinite pronouns (anybody, no one, each, etc.) are also treated as singular. Emphasize to your kids that the answers are often in the words (anyone and nobody both are easy to identify as singular).

Instructional Resources

  • PowerPoint: Targeted for third through ninth grade with a focus on ELL, but a good start for discussing subject-verb agreement, plus a mini-assessment at the end
  • Reference Sheet: A reference guide for the trickier rules with subject-verb agreement
  • Anything Goes: An article explaining some of the controversy surrounding indefinite pronouns
  • 21 Presentations: Why use just one? Check out all of the presentations on subject-verb agreement that Lesson Planet has to offer

Remediation Resources

I'm not a fan of the death-by-worksheet school of teaching, but with grammar, it's often necessary to buckle down and practice, practice, practice. Here are some good resources:

  • Choose the Verb: Introduction to the concept, sample sentences, and 15 practice sentences
  • Multiple Strategies: Select the word, add your own verb, correct the mistakes, and complete a multiple-choice mini-assessment at the end
  • Mega Packet: Twenty-three pages on the different types of verbs with work for each stage
  • Do/Does: Twenty practice sentences on do vs. does
  • Compound/Complex: Multiple choice, but with multiple verbs per sentence
  • Indefinite Pronouns: Practice sentences with indefinite pronouns
  • Online Quiz: Take online quizzes on subject-verb agreement and a variety of other concepts
  • To Have: Work exclusively with the verb to have

 For countless others, just search for subject-verb agreement on Lesson Planet.