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Number Agreement

We can all agree that I am, you are, and they are all aware of how most sentences should fit together. However, the place many of us collapse is in connecting a subject and its verb in a longer sentence. We, of the many childhood grammatical errors, still go to school. But we are tempted to write goes.


  • It’s a good thing he, with all his many accolades, are settling down.
  • Our friends have been visiting the Adirondacks their whole life.
  • The government are changing their minds daily.


The first two errors have to do with the position of something of a different number right next to the word that agrees with the subject. “He is settling down.” Don’t be fooled by the plural accolades; they aren’t settling down. “Our friends have done this their whole lives.” Your job is to carefully note the number of the subject — our friends, he, they, we, the neighbors — and link it to the verb or other words.


American English treats collective entities (government, band, gang) as singular, while the British treat them as plural: “The Catholic Church are centred in the Vatican City.” Beyond that one distinction, however, number agreement means that the subject and the verb must always be linked, no matter how many qualifiers divide them. The bird [single] and all of its many feathers, two feet, and two wings, was lovely.

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