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Serenity Carr, Assistant Editor
Compound Subjects: Singular or Plural?
Wednesday April 14th 2021
Question
What makes a compound subject singular or plural in a sentence? — Hannie, Sierra Leone
Answer

A compound subject is made up of two or more simple subjects joined by a conjunction (such as and, or, or nor):

  • books and movies
  • cookies or cake
  • (not) you nor I
  • she and her mother
  • South America or Australia

 

To know whether you should use a singular or plural verb with a compound subject, you need to look at the word that joins the elements of the compound subject.

If they are joined by and, use a plural verb.

  • A cat and a dog are walking down the street.
  • Cake and ice cream sound delicious.
  • Teachers and students ride the bus on field trips.

 

If they are joined by or, the verb agrees with the element closest to it.

  • (Either) Mom or Dad is picking me up today. [Dad is singular, so the verb is singular.]
  • A rooster or chickens are making noise in that coop. [Chickens is plural, so the verb is plural.]

 

If they are joined by nor, the verb agrees with the element closest to it.

  • Neither John nor I dance well.
  • Neither the teacher nor the students know what the weather will be like next week.

 

Additionally, if a compound subject is preceded by each or every, the verb should be singular.

  • Each student and parent has an appointment with the teacher.
  • Every car and truck is inspected by quality control before being sold.

 

Finally, when a compound subject acts as a single unit (this will be things that are commonly considered one thing, even though they have the structure of "A and B"), use a singular verb.

  • Cookies and cream is my favorite ice cream flavor.
  • Cops and robbers was a common childhood game when I was a kid.

 

I hope this helps.

 

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