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Verbs are essential in sentences, but it can be challenging to figure out which form to use in a particular situation. In this lesson, we’ll explore what singular verbs are, how to identify them and tricky situations where they need to be used.

Singular Verbs

While we are used to looking at nouns as singular and plural, we don’t often think about verbs in the same way. However, since verbs must agree with the nouns or pronouns they are linked to in a sentence, verb forms are also identified as singular or plural.So, what exactly is a singular verb? Simply put, a singular verb is a word showing what has been done, is being done, or will be done that is used with a singular subject in a sentence. A singular subject is one made up of a noun or pronoun that represents one person, place, thing or idea.

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Look for the -S

Every subject and verb in a sentence is presented from a point of view, such as its speaker. In this case, the sentence would be presented in the first-person point of view:

  • I love to eat cookies.

Or a sentence could be stated directly to its recipient, making it the second-person point of view:

  • You need to clean your room.

Sentences can also be written about something completely outside of its speaker, or in the third person point of view. Each point of view has its own noun and verb forms.

For the most part, though, singular verbs look just like plural verbs with one major exception in the case of third-person point of view: Third-person singular verbs end in the letter -s.Let’s look at some examples:

  • The puppy ‘licks’ every person who pets it. (Here, the ‘puppy’ is a third-person singular subject because it represents only one creature that exists outside of the sentence’s speaker.)
  • Beth ‘buys’ new clothes when they are on sale.

    (In this example, ‘Beth’ is a third-person singular subject because she is one person who is not the speaker of the sentence.)

Tricky Verb Situations

In general, remembering that a third-person singular verb ends in -s is enough to help a writer construct grammatically correct sentences. Still, there are some tricky situations to watch for where a sentence’s subject and, thus, its verb are singular, even if they do not appear to be so. Let’s take a look at some of these situations, starting with:

Collective Nouns or Indefinite Pronouns as Subjects

Collective nouns are words used for groups where the individual members act together as one body. Examples of common collective nouns include ‘team,’ ‘committee,’ ‘family’ and ‘class.’Indefinite pronouns are pronouns used to refer to non-specific objects or people. Many indefinite pronouns are singular, including ‘everyone,’ ‘anyone,’ ‘someone,’ ‘everything,’ ‘anything’ and ‘something.

‘When a collective noun or an indefinite pronoun is used as a subject, it is singular, and its corresponding verb must also be singular. For example:

  • The hockey team wears its red jerseys for away games.
  • Everyone who attends college must take final exams.

Let’s move on to:

Subjects Including the Word ‘Or’

In a sentence where two subjects are divided by the word ‘or,’ the verb in the sentence must correspond with the subject that follows ‘or.’ If that subject is singular, the verb used must be singular.

For instance:

  • The boys or the girl needs to clean up the mess left on the front porch.

Here’s another tricky situation:

Sentences With a Modifying Phrase or Clause Between the Subject and Verb

Sometimes a sentence writer will include descriptive information between the subject and verb, making it challenging to determine which verb form is correct for that sentence. However, the same rule holds true for these sentences. If the subject of the sentence is singular, the verb must be singular. For example:

  • Ira, one of the members of the legislative committee, plans to vote in favor of the proposal. (In this sentence, ‘Ira’ is a singular subject.)

Sentences Beginning with ‘Here’ or ‘There’

When a sentence begins with one of these words, this is a signal that the subject of the sentence will actually come after the sentence’s verb.

If that subject is singular, the verb used before it needs to be singular. For instance:

  • There is no way that raft will float! (The subject of this sentence is ‘raft,’ which is singular third person.)
  • Here lies the famous poet, Edgar Allan Poe. (The subject of the sentence is ‘Edgar Allan Poe,’ a singular third-person subject.)

Lesson Summary

A singular verb is a word that shows what has been done, is being done or will be done that agrees with a singular subject.

Singular verbs have the same forms as plural verbs, except for third-person singular verbs, which end in the letter -s.Singular verbs are used in any sentence where the subject is also singular, including sentences where the subject is a collective noun, an indefinite pronoun, follows the word ‘or,’ is separated from the verb by a modifying phrase or clause, or follows the verb because the sentence begins with ‘here’ or ‘there.’

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