Subject-Verb Agreement in Questions

Just to make subject-verb agreement complicated, English grammar shuffles a sentence around to form questions and often throws in a helping verb or two. More bad news: questions are formed differently in different tenses. Here you learn how to form singular and plural questions in each tense.

Grammatically correct present tense questions

Check out the italicized subjects and verbs in these questions:

Does the ring in Lulu’s navel rust when she showers? (ring = singular subject, does rust = singular verb)
Do Larry and Ella need a good divorce lawyer? (Larry + Ella = plural subject, do need = plural verb)

You’ve probably figured out that the verbs in these questions are formed by adding do or does to the main verb. Do matches all plurals as well as the singular subjects I and you. Does is for all other singular subjects. That’s the system for most present tense questions. (Questions formed with the verb to be don’t need do or does.)

When do or does is used to form a question, the main verb doesn’t change. So when checking subject-verb agreement in present-tense questions, be sure to note the helping verb — do or does.

Just for comparison, here are a couple of questions with the verb to be:

Is grammar in style right now? (grammar = singular subject, is = singular verb)
Am I a good grammarian? (I = singular subject, am = singular verb)
Are the grammarians analyzing that sentence? (grammarians = plural subject, are analyzing = plural verb)

Past tense questions and good grammar

Past tense questions make use of the helping verb did. You’ll probably cheer when you hear that did forms both singular and plural questions. Questions with the verb to be (always a maverick) don’t need helping verbs, but the order changes. Here are some examples of past tense questions:

Did Zoe play the same song for eight hours? (Zoe = singular subject, did play = singular past tense verb)
Did the grammarians complain about that question? (grammarians = plural subject, did complain = plural past tense verb)
Was Lola on the Committee to Combat Body Piercing? (Lola = singular subject, was = singular past tense verb)
Were the villagers angry about the new tax? (villagers = plural subject, were = plural verb)

Grammar meets future tense questions

Once again, this topic is a free pass when it comes to singular and plural questions. The future tenses already have helping verbs, so no additions are necessary. Here’s the best part: The helping verbs are the same for both singular and plural subjects. Read these sample future tense questions:

Will Lola and Lulu ever see the error of their ways? (Lola and Lulu= plural subject, will see = plural future tense verb)
Will George be seeing you in all the old familiar places? (George = singular subject, will be seeing = singular future tense verb)
Will both of you be ordering another dessert? (both = plural subject, will be ordering = plural future tense verb)
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