Definition and Examples of Agreement in English Grammar

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In grammar, agreement is the correspondence of a verb with its subject in person and number, and of a pronoun with its antecedent in person, number, and gender. Another term for grammatical agreement is concord.

Basic Principles of Agreement

"In English, agreement is relatively limited. It occurs between the subject of a clause and a present tense verb, so that, for instance, with a third-person singular subject (e.g. John), the verb must have the -s suffix ending. That is, the verb agrees with its subject by having the appropriate ending. Thus, John drinks a lot is grammatical, but John drink a lot isn't grammatical as a sentence on its own, because the verb doesn't agree."

"Agreement also occurs in English between demonstratives and nouns. A demonstrative has to agree in number with its noun. So with a plural noun such as books, you have to use a plural these or those, giving these books or those books. With a singular noun, such as book, you use a singular this or that, giving this book or that book. This books or those book would be ungrammatical because the demonstrative doesn't agree with the noun."
–James R. Hurford, Grammar: A Student's Guide. Cambridge University Press, 1994

Agreement in Sentences

"Agreement is an important process in many languages, but in modern English it is superfluous, a remnant of a richer system that flourished in Old English. If it were to disappear entirely, we would not miss it, any more than we miss the similar -est suffix in Thou sayest. But psychologically speaking, this frill does not come cheap. Any speaker committed to using it has to keep track of four details in every sentence uttered:

  • whether the subject is in the third person or not: He walks versus I walk.
  • whether the subject is singular or plural: He walks versus They walk.
  • whether the action is present tense or not: He walks versus He walked.
  • whether the action is habitual or going on at the moment of speaking (its "aspect"): He walks to school versus He is walking to school.

And all this work is needed just to use the suffix once one has learned it."
–Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct. William Morrow, 1994

Common Mistakes

"Some nouns are commonly used with singular verbs although plural in form: Some nouns are commonly plural in usage, even though naming something singular."

  • news, politics, economics, athletics, molasses
  • nouns that state a given time, weight, or amount of energy
  • titles of books, newspapers, television shows, even of plural form
  • His trousers were old and torn.
  • The suds are almost down the drain.
  • Scissors are a great invention.
  • The contents were ruined.

–Patricia Osborn, How Grammar Works: A Self-Teaching Guide. John Wiley, 1989

How to Use Agreement

  • Many dogs are made anxious by loud noises.
  • An anxious dog is not able to focus and maintain attention.
  • Dogs and cats are the most common pets.
  • A dog and a cat are in our house.
  • Usually, either the dog or the cat is in my room.
  • Abandoning a dog or a cat is grossly irresponsible.

Examples in Context

Bill Bryson

"The manager was one of those people who are so permanently and comprehensively stressed that even their hair and clothes appear to be at their wit's end."
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. Broadway Books, 2006

James Van Fleet

"I have read statistics that show only five out of every 100 people become financially successful. By the retirement age of 65, only one of these people is truly wealthy."
Hidden Power. Prentice-Hall, 1987

Maxine Hong Kingston

"She brought back another woman, who wore a similar uniform except that it was pink trimmed in white. This woman's hair was gathered up into a bunch of curls at the back of her head; some of the curls were fake."
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Alfred A. Knopf, 1976

Bell Hooks

"Feminist activists must emphasize the forms of power these women exercise and show ways they can be used for their benefit."
Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, 2nd ed. Pluto Press, 2000

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Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Agreement in English Grammar." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Definition and Examples of Agreement in English Grammar. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Agreement in English Grammar." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).