Was or Were? Nail Subject-Verb Agreement With 6 Rules

Which one looks correct to you?

A.) Lecturing on a breadth of subjects are interesting.

B.) Lecturing on a breadth of subjects is interesting.

Before I answer, let’s review the rules of subject-verb agreement in simple sentences:

The cat is feisty. One cat, singular verb.

The cats are feisty. More than one cat, plural verb.

Maude has nice hair. One person, singular verb.

Maude and Ahmad both have nice hair. Two people, plural verb.

Pretty straightforward, right? But alas: many sentences aren’t this straightforward. Here are six simple rules of subject-verb agreement, so you’ll never get tripped up by the is/are conundrum again:

1.) Either/or, neither/nor

In either/or and neither/nor sentences, the verb should always agree with the noun closer to the verb.

Note: If there are two nouns, one plural, one singular, the plural noun should always be closer to the verb (see first example below).

Either my brother Billy or my cats demand dinner the moment I’m home from work.

Neither Mrs. Bianchi nor Hanh has the flu.

2.) No one, anyone, each, each one, every, everybody, everyone, nobody, somebody, someone, and one take singular verbs

No one is planning on studying.

Anyone is a good match for Theodore.

Each is a great dentist in her own right.

Everybody wants a fritter for dinner.

3.) With “there,” the subject comes after the verb

There is only one city like Tokyo.

There have been so many nice compliments on my new dress today.

4.) Sometimes the verb doesn’t come directly after the subject

Nevertheless, the verb must match the subject in number.

Deepak, who often works with Oprah and Dr. Phil, is deeply spiritual.

Lofn’s children, including little Cecil, have gained weight this winter.

5.) Collective nouns (data, family, team, etc.) are almost always singular

The herd appears to be running toward the watering hole.

The jury decides the verdict today.

6.) Verb phrases that act as nouns, called gerunds, take singular verbs

Playing tennis is fun.

Online dating has dangerous consequences.

Now, let’s get back to the question at the beginning of my post:

A.) Lecturing on a breadth of subjects are interesting.

B.) Lecturing on a breadth of subjects is interesting.

Figuring out the subject is vital to figuring out the correct verb: here, it’s lecturing on a breadth of subjects, not simply subjects. Looking at rule #6, the subject takes a singular verb.

Hence, B is the correct answer.

Tune in soon for a subject-verb quiz (don’t worry, you’ll ace it!). Questions, concerns, or further examples? Leave ’em in the comments.


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