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What Does "Subject-Verb Agreement" Mean?

By Eric W. Vogt

If you're a teacher, you've written admonitions about this on many a quiz. If you're a student of Spanish, you may have wondered what your teacher meant. This lesson explains what subject-verb agreement is all about and gives an easy to remember example.

Subjects

In order to understand subject-verb agreement, you first need to know what a subject and a verb are.

Let’s start with subjects. When we use the word subject in a grammatical sense, we do not mean topic. How do we tell the difference? Consider the following sentence:

The man bought a new wallet.

Depending on many factors, the topic could be shopping, new wallets versus old ones or wallets. But the only doer or performer of an action in this example is the man.

Grammatically speaking, subjects perform an action. In Spanish, subjects may be singular or plural. Subjects are either nouns, which are names, labels if you wish, that identify a person, for instance John, he, I, they, you. A subject does not have to be a human being. It could be an animal, such as Rover, dog, elephant. It could be a plant, as in the rose. It could be a thing, like a corkscrew or a broom. It could even be an abstraction like love or envy. So, any and all nouns are eligible to be the grammatical subject of a sentence. Here are a couple of the examples above used as grammatical subjects:

John lives on 15 Avenue.

They clean the house on Saturdays.

Pronouns may also be grammatical subjects. Pronouns are words that stand in for nouns, and when a pronoun is used as a subject in Spanish, it will use its subject form. As you’ll learn in other lessons, there are other forms for other grammatical situations. As in English, in Spanish there are only a handful of subject pronouns.

By arranging these subject forms in a certain pattern, with the singular ones on the left and the plural ones on the right, we create a sort of pigeonhole arrangement. The pattern it creates has three boxes on the left for the three singular forms and three on the right for the plural ones. Also, each pigeon hole has its corresponding verb form. You can visualize this correspondence by imagining two of these identical pigeonhole patterns one on top of the other, one representing the subject pronouns and the other representing their corresponding verb forms. The bottom two boxes each contain three items: on the left, él, ella and usted; on the right, ellos, ellas and ustedes.

Furthermore, from top to bottom of this pattern, the boxes are identified as first, second and third person. This allows us to define more precisely what each box represents, as if using latitude and longitude. It’s a bit like playing the popular game Battleship.

The first person is defined as the person speaking. When singular, this person speaks for him or herself – I – found on the upper left. Immediately across from it, to the upper right, is the first-person plural, used when one person is speaking for a group – we. Note that in Spanish, if a woman is speaking for a group of women, she will use nosotras, not nosotros.

yo = I nosotros/-as = we

= you vosotros/-as = you

él = he ellos = they (masculine or mixed group)

ella = she ellas = they (feminine only)

usted = you ustedes = you

Although the pronoun it can be used as a subject in English, there is no corresponding use of any pronoun. When in English it would be the subject, in Spanish, it is understood; simply use the third-person verb form with no subject mentioned.

Looking at the chart closely, you’ll notice that there are four ways to say you in Spanish. Let’s start with . is the form used between friends. Because it has a box all to itself, its corresponding verb form is unique to that box – and so the pronoun itself may be omitted because there can be no mistake as to who the subject is. Its corresponding plural, vosotros (or vosotras if the group is all female), is used only in Spain. Usted is the formal or polite form. In Latin America, because vosotros is not used, ustedes is the only way to say you in the plural. These two pronouns are often abbreviated in writing as Ud. and Uds. Also notice that yo and nosotros, like , have their own boxes.

Verbs

Now let’s turn our attention to verbs. A verb is a word that tells what action the subject is or subjects are, doing. Verbs are listed in the dictionary in their infinitive or pre-conjugated form. The term infinitive suggests that the verb’s possibilities are infinite – that is, having not yet been conjugated, it has not had a person or number assigned to it. In addition to person and number, verbs have tenses as well. Tense shows whether the action takes place in the present, past or future. There are some tenses that fine-tune the way that the time of an action is viewed. However, in order to understand the concept of subject-verb agreement, we will only use one regular verb in the present tense: hablar, which means to speak.

When a verb is conjugated, the infinitive ending, in this case –ar, is removed and a set of endings, each corresponding to one of the six boxes, is attached to the end. This correspondence is what subject-verb agreement is all about. Here is the verb hablar, conjugated in the present indicative tense. By clicking on each one, you can hear how to pronounce them:

hablo

hablamos

hablas

habláis

habla

hablan

By superimposing the pronoun pigeonholes over these six forms, you can easily see what each of these six forms means. In the case of the third-person singular and third-person plural, you can see that each one could have three different subjects. For this reason, when habla or hablan are used, the subject pronouns are often used to avoid misunderstandings.

Quizzes for Lesson plan

After you have taught the lesson on Spanish Subject- Verb agreement, you will want to check how well the class has understood the concepts. Use the following quizzes on the next page to assess student understanding.

Spanish subject-verb agreement, Quiz Set A, with key

I. Conjugate the following regular –AR verbs so that they agree with the subjects indicated.

1. tú/cantar

2. ellos/trabajar

3. usted/pagar

4. nosotros/pegar

5. ella/nadar

6. yo/mirar

7. ustedes/llevar

8. tú/necesitar

9. yo/dejar

10. él/observar

11. ellos/amar

12. usted/odiar

13. tú/combinar

14. yo/hablar

15. nosotros/enviar

16. ella/ask

17. tú/prepare

18. yo/inform

19. usted/drive

20. nosotros/desire

II. Match the following phrases with their English translations.

1. Ella compra. a. You work.

2. Trabajas. b. I cook.

3. Cocino. c. We work.

4. Ellos miran. d. She buys.

5. Trabajamos. e. They watch.

III. Translate the following short English sentences into Spanish. You do not need to include the subject pronoun in your answer – simply give the proper verb form.

1. He works.

2. You (Ud.) sing.

3. I need.

4. They swim.

5. We carry.

6. She looks.

7. He carries.

8. You (tú) forgive.

9. They rent.

10. We buy.

11. You (Uds.) listen.

12. He uses.

13. We weigh.

14. She exports.

15. We import.

16. I review.

17. They ask.

18. You (tú) postpone.

19. We need.

20. He desires.

Exercise Set A KEYSpanish Subject Verb Agreement

I. Conjugate the following regular –AR verbs so that they agree with the subjects indicated.

1. cantas

2. trabajan

3. paga

4. pegamos

5. nada

6. miro

7. llevan

8. necesitas

9. dejo

10. observa

11. aman

12. odia

13. combinas

14. hablo

15. enviamos

16. pregunta

17. preparas

18. informo

19. maneja

20. deseamos

II. Match the following phrases with their English translations.

1. d.

2. a.

3. b.

4. e.

5. c.

III. Translate the following English sentences into Spanish.

1. Trabaja.

2. Canta.

3. Necesito.

4. Nadan.

5. Llevamos.

6. Mira.

7. Lleva.

8. Perdonas.

9. Alquilan.

10. Compramos.

11. Escuchan.

12. Usa.

13. Pesamos.

14. Exporta.

15. Importamos.

16. Reviso.

17. Preguntan.

18. Postergas.

19. Necesitamos.

20. Desea.

Spanish Subject Verb Agreement Quiz Set B, with Key

I. Conjugate the following regular –AR verbs so that they agree with the subjects indicated.

1. ella/enviar

2. yo/llegar

3. vosotros/escuchar

4. ellos/borrar

5. Uds./odiar

6. tú/amar

7. él/utilizar

8. Ud./desear

9. yo/exporter

10. ellas/llamar

11. tú/revisar

12. él/determinar

13. usted/tachar

14. ellos/sacar

15. yo/dejar

16. nosotros/echar

17. ellas/hipotecar

18. ustedes/redactar

19. vosotros/bailar

20. yo/llenar

II. Match the following phrases with their English translations.

1. Escuchan. a. We desire.

2. Ama. b. I call.

3. Deseamos. c. They listen.

4. Llamo. d. You use.

5. Utilizas e. She loves.

III. Translate the following English sentences into Spanish using regular –AR verbs. You do not need to include the subject pronoun in your answer – simply give the proper verb form.

1. He erases.

2. We hate.

3. You (tú) arrive.

4. She sends.

5. I desire.

6. They edit.

7. I need.

8. We verify.

9. You (tú) cook.

10. He rents.

11. They throw out.

12. You (Uds.) manufacture.

13. She scratches out [as in a word].

14. They evaluate.

15. I buy.

16. They prepare.

17. He wraps.

18. We look.

19. I listen.

20. You (tú) love.

Exercise Set BSpanish Subject Verb Agreement

I. Conjugate the following regular –AR verbs so that they agree with the subjects indicated.

1. envia

2. llego

3. escucháis

4. borran

5. odian

6. amas

7. utiliza

8. desea

9. exporto

10. llaman

11. revisas

12. determine

13. tacha

14. sacan

15. dejo

16. echamos

17. hipotecan

18. redactan

19. bailáis

20. lleno

II. Match the following phrases with their English translations.

1. c.

2. e.

3. a.

4. b.

5. d.

III. Translate the following English sentences into Spanish, using regular –AR verbs. You do not need to include the subject pronoun in your answer – simply give the proper verb form.

1. Borra.

2. Odiamos.

3. Llegas.

4. Envia.

5. Deseo.

6. Redactan.

7. Necesito.

8. Verificamos.

9. Cocinas.

10. Alquila.

11. Echan.

12. Fabrican.

13. Tacha.

14. Evalúan.

15. Compro.

16. Preparan.

17. Empaqueta.

18. Miramos.

19. Escucho.

20. Amas.

Spanish Subject Verb Agreement Quiz Set C, with Key

I. Conjugate the following regular –AR verbs so that they agree with the subjects indicated.

1. tú/contratar 2. él/emplear 3. ellas/alquilar 4. yo/mandar 5. Ud./mejorar 6. ellos/aumentar 7. ella/bailar 8. yo/preguntar 9. nosotros/postergar 10. yo/quitar 11. ella y yo/bailar 12. yo/llorar 13. usted/llegar 14. nosotros/llenar 15. ellos/llevar 16. ustedes/llamar 17. tú y yo/mirar 18. vosotros/postergar 19. ellas/borrar 20. vosotros/determinar II. Match the following phrases with their English translations. 1. She increases. a. Postergo. 2. I postpone. b. Mejoran. 3. We rent. c. Empleas. 4. You (tú) employ. d. Aumenta. 5. They improve. e. Alquilamos. III. Translate the following English sentences into Spanish. You do not need to include the subject pronoun in your answer – simply give the proper verb form. 1. She orders. 2. They rent. 3. I ask. 4. We employ. 5. You (tú) hire. 6. She listens. 7. We carry. 8. They dance. 9. She and I sing. 10. They evaluate. 11. We work. 12. He verifies. 13. I rent. 14. We manufacture. 15. You (tú) confirm. 16. They postpone. 17. He reviews. 18. She hates. 19. I employ. 20. You (tú) cook.

Exercise Set C KEYSpanish Subject Verb Agreement

I. Conjugate the following regular –AR verbs so that they agree with the subjects indicated.

1. contratas

2. emplea

3. alquilan

4. mando

5. mejora

6. aumentan

7. baila

8. pregunto

9. postergamos

10. quito

11. bailamos

12. lloro

13. llega

14. llenamos

15. llevan

16. llaman

17. miramos

18. postergáis

19. borran

20. determináis

II. Match the following phrases with their English translations.

1. d.

2. a.

3. e.

4. c.

5. b.

III. Translate the following English sentences into Spanish. You do not need to include the subject pronoun in your answer – simply give the proper verb form.

1. Manda.

2. Alquilan.

3. Pregunto.

4. Empleamos.

5. Contratas.

6. Escucha.

7. Llevamos.

8. Bailan.

9. Cantamos.

10. Evalúane.

11. Trabajamos.

12. Verifica.

13. Alquilo.

14. Fabricamos.

15. Confirmas.

16. Postergan.

17. Revisa.

18. Odia.

19. Empleo.

20. Cocinas.