Ask the Editor
What makes a compound subject singular or plural in a sentence? — Hannie, Sierra Leone
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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