Using the One-S Rule

A singular subject requires the singular form of a verb. A plural subject requires the plural form of the verb. Makes sense, right?


Just in case you get stuck, we at Shmoop have a tip to keep in the back of your brain—you know, like where you keep all of the state capitals and the lyrics to "I Wish" by Skee-Lo.

It's called the "One–S" rule, and here's what it means:

In most sentences, either the verb has the –s ending or the subject has the –s ending. "One–S." Not two, not three, not forty-two. Only one.

If, when you look at your freshly typed sentence, both the subject and the verb end in –s, then there's a decent chance that your subject and your verb disagree, and you'll need to send them to mediation or couples counseling.

Or, you know, just take the –s off of one of them.



"An awesome student submits her work on time."

In these words to live by, the "One –S" rule shows us that the subject and verb agree because the singular subject student doesn't have an –s on the end, and submits sure does.

"Beyonce's songs sound even better live."

In this (very true) sentence, we have a plural subject, songs. Since it ends in –s, we know the verb, sound, should not end in –s if we want it to agree with the subject.

"When the lunch bell rings, the children run to the cafeteria like a herd of starving bison."

Hold up. There's no –s on the subject, children, and there's no –s on the verb, run. What gives? We told you that the "One –S" rule works for most sentences. It doesn't work for all of them. Some rule-busting subjects—like children, women, men, and fungi (hmmm, one of these things is not like the others) don't take an –s when they become plural, so you're going to need to keep an eye out for them.


Common mistakes

The Sharks. The Jets. The T-Birds… some gangs were just meant to break the rules—and occasionally break into song for no reason.

While all, both, few, many, several, and some aren't known to lay down a smooth ballad, they are known to almost always use the plural form of the verb. For example: Some people in homeroom are very annoying.

How about these guys: plural or singular?

We're glad you asked. These words are all treated as singular. When you say everyone, you're probably referring to multiple people, but the word itself is singular. Everyone is so helpful at Shmoop, huh?

Isn't grammar great(ly confusing)?

Collective nouns are toughies. Usually, they describe a group, such as team, family, orchestra, or board and are treated as singular, as in: The hockey team practices on the large pond by the cracker factory.

However, they can also be considered plural if each person in the group acts individually. For example: The jury disagree about the credibility of a talking parrot as a witness.

Thanks, grammar! We love confusing topics.


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