Verb Errors

Ensuring subject/verb agreement


A verb must agree with its subject.

Sometimes the verb in a sentence ends in "s"; sometimes it does not. For example, we say "Tom rides a bike" and "I ride a bike."

An "s" is used at the end of present tense verbs when the subject of the verb is third person singular (he, she, it, Janet, the cat…).

It is usually easy to choose the correct verb. Native speakers of English will likely find that the following sentences sound incorrect:

INCORRECT: Tom often work out at the gym.
I hopes you plays that record at the party.

The sentences should read:

CORRECT: Tom often works out at the gym.
I hope you play that record at the party.

In more complex sentences there are several ways errors can be made in verb tense.


Several words in between the subject and verb.

INCORRECT: The books that we found laying on the floor belongs to Dr. Frost.

Because the subject and verb are separated by other words, it is easier to choose an incorrect verb. Try reading the sentence without the interrupting words to find the correct verb.

CORRECT: The books that we found laying on the floor belong to Dr. Frost.


Two subjects for one verb.

INCORRECT: The applicant's knowledge and personality makes her the best person for the promotion.

When there are two subjects for one verb we must use a plural verb:

CORRECT: The applicant's knowledge and personality make her the best person for the promotion.

NOTE: If the two subjects are joined by "or" or "nor," then use the verb that agrees with the subject closer to it:

CORRECT: Neither the applicant's knowledge nor her personality makes her the best person for the promotion.


Subject comes after verb (often in sentences starting with "Here" or "There").

INCORRECT: Here comes those two students for their appointments.

Neither "here" nor "there" can be the subject of a sentence. To find the subject, ask, "What or who is performing the action?" In this case, "Who comes?" The answer is "two students."

CORRECT: Here come those two students for their appointments.


Avoid needlessly shifting verb tense.

INCORRECT (needless tense shift): Hamlet contemplated killing himself several times during the play (past tense). His depression leads him to be unable to make good decisions (present tense).

CORRECT: (all in past tense) Hamlet contemplated killing himself several times during the play. His depression led him to be unable to make good decisions.
or
(all in present tense) Hamlet contemplates killing himself several times during the play. His depression leads him to be unable to make good decisions.