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Test Yourself: Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb disagreement is one of the commonest errors I see these days in business writing. People who have mastered punctuation, pronouns, and challenging word pairs still miss the occasional agreement problem.

Sometimes a plural verb is incorrectly paired with a singular subject, for example:

Each of the selected candidates have to write a personal statement. (Correct: Each . . . has)

And sometimes a singular verb is incorrectly matched with a plural subject, as in this error I recently heard on National Public Radio:

The chaos and violence continues in Iraq. (Correct: The chaos and violence continue–because chaos and violence are two distinct things.)

Test yourself on subject-verb agreement in these 10 sentences. Some sentences are correct.

  1. Options regarding the ways to handle the risk was discussed.
  2. Either Carolyn or her team members has copies of the rental agreement.
  3. Our recommendation and bid cover training in business writing, including grammar and punctuation.
  4. The advice from the senior team and the input from the public was considered in developing the program.
  5. Contributions raised at the annual event funds our local programs.
  6. Customer satisfaction and product reliability is our responsibility.
  7. Our team has been working diligently and is making excellent progress.
  8. Neither of her professional references have called me back yet.
  9. One of the reasons she contacted us are the accounts payable problems.
  10. This survey, along with earlier analyses, suggests that we increase prices.


Before you review the answers below, check to see whether you fixed seven incorrect sentences.



Here are corrections:

  1. Options regarding the ways to handle the risk were discussed. (options . . . were)
  2. Either Carolyn or her team members have copies of the rental agreement. (team members have)
  3. Correct–if the recommendation and bid are two separate pieces.
  4. The advice from the senior team and the input from the public were considered in developing the program. (the advice . . . and the input . . . were)
  5. Contributions raised at the annual event fund our local programs. (contributions . . . fund)
  6. Customer satisfaction and product reliability are our responsibility [or responsibilities]. (satisfaction and . . . reliability are)
  7. Correct. Team is singular in this context.
  8. Neither of her professional references has called me back yet. (neither . . . has)
  9. One of the reasons she contacted us is the accounts payable problems. (one . . . is)
  10. Correct. Ignore the phrase within commas when determining the verb.

My Microsoft grammar and spelling checker missed the errors in Numbers 5, 6, and 9 but identified all the other errors. It did not suggest changing the correct sentences.

Did any of these examples trick you?


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

12 comments on “Test Yourself: Subject-Verb Agreement”

  • Number 8 tripped me up. I focused on “professional references” as the subject. (I’m not sure how “neither” is a subject, but, that’s probably another lesson!)

    Thanks for this one, Lynn.

  • I do not believe that I have ever seen the word ‘commonest’ used or even heard it spoken. This caught me by surprise. In my experience, that thought is usually written as ‘most common’ or ‘more common.’ Is there a difference in the usage or is it personal preference?

  • Hi, Marlene. In Number 8, think of the subject as “neither one,” which is what it means. If you mentally insert the “one,” it will help you recognize the need for the singular verb “has.”

    Thanks for asking.


  • Hi, Laura. Good question! I debated about the choice between “most common” and “commonest.” I decided on “commonest” because it is not awkward to say.

    The rule about choosing between “-est” and “most” involves how awkward the pronunciation would be, along with the number of syllables in the original word. (If the original word is more than two syllables, the choice is always “more” or “most.”) Because “common” is two syllables and “commonest” is easy to pronounce, I chose “commonest.”

    Think of other words such as “happiest” and “prettiest.”

    In contrast, we would not use “confusingest” or “challengingest.”


  • Hi, Alex. Thank you for the question. I have added “in this context” to the answer key.

    “Team” is considered singular unless we want to emphasize the team members, as in “The team live in various parts of the world.” In such a sentence it is clearer to write “the team members.”


  • What does one do when bad grammar, poor writing, and disjointed script writing for speakers is the norm. Editing and making changes is not necessary.

    Bad writing skills reign supreme are also supported by the corporate structure that employs you, while good grammar, good script writing and good speaking skills are determined to be a distraction that slows down the process. Machiavelli in his peak?

    Why should one attempt use good writing skills if they are going to be categorized as “old fashioned” and “not appropriate” for today’s, “savvy” business environment?

    Should the employee who has the ability to use writing and communication knowledge be demoted because it’s not the norm? After all, they just studied language and look they didn’t even get a two year degree, they managed some sort of upper level degree that just takes a long time and gets your no where.

    In today’s savvy business world, in order to survive..slang is better and using two finger typing is faster. We we have technology at our fingertips even when we aren’t supposed to be using our cell phones. After all, we, unlike others, have “a life.” True or false?

    Should typing with two fingers be rewarded in order to replace traditional typing method, because traditional typing is a skill that must be learned while two finger typing is something that you can pick up from your classmate? Everyone knows that talking to your classmate is more fun and also socially acceptable. It’s how we can prove that we can create a good rapport with the general public and the general public is our client.

    The reigning philosophy is proven to be: Why bother with rules and the right way, after all being socially accepted can make me boss over those “book worms” that concentrate on how to follow the rules. And if those “old people” try to tell me differently, when I’m the boss, I can just get rid of them. It’s cheaper to hire my friends and I know the corporation will go for that, after all it saves the consumer dollars and prepares for the future. It also creates employment security for the “up and coming business savvy” person.
    By the way, I give away my meds on the side.

    —–American Corporate Structure in a large metropolitan area, as encountered in the “real world” in the Millennium era.

  • I want to send a short message below. A message is below.

    Please find attached signed contract for your reference which I brought to your company.

    Pls, correct my sentence.

  • Hi ! I’m doing a presentation about verb-subject agreement for my english class. It requires to find real examples in professional writing and correct them. I could only find one so far. Do you have any recommandation on how to find a few more ? Thanks a lot !

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