Subject & Verb Agreement: Singular Subjects Joined by "Or"

Learn the rule of subject and verb agreement when singular subjects are joined by "or" from Gotham Writers' Workshop instructor Stephanie Paterik in this Howcast grammar video.

Transcript

So sometimes you'll write a sentence with two subjects joined by the word or and you need to figure out what form of the verb you need in order to agree. Uh, will the verb need to be singular or will it need to be plural. Well, as a general rule of thumb when two singular subjects are joined by the word or you need the singular form of the verb so let me give you an example. Let's say I have two friends named Michelle and Piya [sp] and they like to buy books but they don't want to spend too much money. So, they take turns buying a book and sharing the book. So, we'd get a sentence like this Michelle or Piya buy or buys the book to share. In this case, our subject is Michelle or Piya and because we see the word or in there we have to treat this subject as singular which means we need the singular form of the word buy. So in this case it would be Michelle or Piya buys the book to share.

That's the correct verb to make sure that there's agreement in the sentence. Now a word of warning the rule changes if you have two subjects joined by the word or if one of those subjects is singular and one of those subjects is plural. Let me give you an example. In this example, the cheerleaders or the coach pick or picks up the equipment. So, in this case pick or picks is our verb is our action. And the cheerleaders or the coach are our actors or our subject.

So, in order to find out whether we choose the singular or plural verb we need to decide if the cheerleader or the coach as a subject is singular or plural. Normally, if you have two subjects joined by or and their both singular subjects this would be singular but in this case we have a plural noun and a singular noun so it gets a little bit trickier. In this situation, you choose the verb that agrees with whichever part of the subject is closet to the verb. So in this case we have coach. Coach is closest to our verb and coach is singular so we choose the singular form of the verb for this sentence.

The cheerleaders or the coach picks up the equipment. Now this would change if our sentence were worded just a little bit differently. Now we've reversed the order of the nouns in our subject so that the sentence reads the coach or the cheerleaders pick or picks up the equipment. So in this case we need to use the form of the verb that agrees with the noun that's closest to it. So in this case cheerleaders are closest to our verb. Cheerleaders are plural so we need our plural verb. And our sentence becomes the coach or the cheerleaders pick up the equipment so making sure that your subjects and your verbs agree in a sentence when you have two subjects joined by the word or can be a little bit tricky but I hope that this clarifies it for you.

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