18th April 2023
How Subject–Verb Agreement Works With And/Or
Subject–verb agreement, as you’ve probably learned, is the rule that the subject in a sentence must agree with the verb. For example, if you use a singular subject, the verb must be singular.
But what if there are two subjects, and the verb needs to agree with them both individually and together? If that sounds confusing, that’s because we’ve entered the world of using and/or in a sentence. Let’s break down the subject–verb agreement with this phrase.
What Is Subject–Verb Agreement?
As we mentioned, the subject of a sentence needs to agree with the verb. Consider an example:
In this sentence, the subject (cats) is a plural noun. In the first example, “is” would be incorrect because it’s a singular verb. The correct verb, “are”, works with the subject because it’s a plural verb.
What Does And/Or Mean?
And/or is used when you need to leave two options open. Here are a few examples:
Some of my coworkers take weekend and/or evening shifts.
You can plant succulents and/or herbs in this planter.
Basically, and/or means that one of two things or both things are possible. But since this means there could be one item or two, should the verb be singular or plural?
Subject–Verb Agreement With And/Or Phrases
If the subject is both singular and plural, is it possible for the verb to agree with both ways? In short – no. For example:
The police chief and/or the detectives has that day off.
Which one of these options is correct? Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules about this, but a few tips can help you to make the best choice for your writing.
Check Your Style Guide
First and foremost, check your style guide, as it may have rules on how to handle and/or phrases. If you don’t have a style guide, check with your professor or supervisor to see what they prefer. This, of course, only applies if you’re a student or professional writing a piece of work for submission.
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Treat It as Plural
If you can’t find any guidance, it’s generally accepted that and/or phrases make the subject plural. This means that the verb should be plural. For example:
The logic behind this is that the option for two subjects has preference over the possibility of just one subject.
Rephrase the Sentence
You may be able to rephrase the sentence to place the verb before the subject. Or you can remove and/or entirely. Often, “or” is fine on its own. Let’s look at a few examples:
There were noises coming from the bird or the dog or both.
The magazine recommends matching the curtains with the pillows and/or the rug.
The students or the teacher have to put the chairs away.
If you can’t avoid using and/or, hopefully, these tips will help you to use this phrase correctly. Remember to check your style guide if you have one, and if you’re still unsure, it’s probably the safest bet to use a plural verb.
If you need help with your grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, formatting, and/or referencing (see what we did there?), we’ll be happy to help. Submit a free sample of your work to one of our expert editors today.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does subject–verb agreement work with two items separated by “and”?
Because and means there is more than one item, even if both items are singular, the verb must be plural.
What does “and/or” mean?
You can use and/or to indicate that one or both situations are possible.
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