Agreement (linguistics)

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

Agreement or concord (abbreviated agr) happens when a word changes form depending on the other words to which it relates.[1] It is an instance of inflection, and usually involves making the value of some grammatical category (such as gender or person) "agree" between varied words or parts of the sentence.

For example, in Standard English, one may say I am or he is, but not "I is" or "he am". This is because the grammar of the language requires that the verb and its subject agree in person. The pronouns I and he are first and third person respectively, as are the verb forms am and is. The verb form must be selected so that it has the same person as the subject.

The agreement based on overt grammatical categories as above is formal agreement, in contrast to notional agreement, which is based on meaning.[2][3] For instance, in American English the phrase The United Nations is treated as singular for purposes of agreement even though it is formally plural.

By category

Agreement generally involves matching the value of some grammatical category between different constituents of a sentence (or sometimes between sentences, as in some cases where a pronoun is required to agree with its antecedent or referent). Some categories that commonly trigger grammatical agreement are noted below.


Agreement based on grammatical person is found mostly between verb and subject. An example from English (I am vs. he is) has been given in the introduction to this article.

Agreement between pronoun (or corresponding possessive adjective) and antecedent also requires the selection of the correct person. For example, if the antecedent is the first person noun phrase Mary and I, then a first person pronoun (we/us/our) is required; however, most noun phrases (the dog, my cats, Jack and Jill, etc.) are third person, and are replaced by a third person pronoun (he/she/it/they etc.).


Agreement based on grammatical number can occur between verb and subject, as in the case of grammatical person discussed above. In fact the two categories are often conflated within verb conjugation patterns: there are specific verb forms for first person singular, second person plural and so on. Some examples:

  • I really am (1st pers. singular) vs. We really are (1st pers. plural)
  • The boy sings (3rd pers. singular) vs. The boys sing (3rd pers. plural)

Again as with person, there is agreement in number between pronouns (or their corresponding possessives) and antecedents:

  • The girl did her job vs. The girls did their job

Agreement also occurs between nouns and their modifiers, in some situations. This is common in languages such as French, where articles, determiners and adjectives (both attributive and predicative) agree in number with the nouns they qualify:

  • le grand homme ("the great man") vs. les grands hommes ("the great men")

In English this is not such a common feature, although there are certain determiners that occur specifically with singular or plural nouns only:

  • One big car vs. Two big cars
  • Much great work vs. Many great works


In languages in which grammatical gender plays a significant role, there is often agreement in gender between a noun and its modifiers. For example, in French:

  • le grand homme ("the big man"; homme is masculine) vs. la grande chaise ("the big chair"; chaise is feminine)

Such agreement is also found with predicate adjectives: l'homme est grand ("the man is big") vs. la chaise est grande ("the chair is big"). (However, in some languages, such as German, this is not the case; only attributive modifiers show agreement.)

In the case of verbs, gender agreement is less common, although it may still occur. For example, in the French compound past tense, the past participle agrees in certain circumstances with the subject or with an object (see passé composé for details). In Russian and most other Slavic languages, the form of the past tense agrees in gender with the subject.

There is also agreement in gender between pronouns and antecedents. Examples of this can be found in English (although English pronouns principally follow natural gender rather than grammatical gender):

  • The man reached his destination vs. The ship reached her/its destination

For more detail see Gender in English.


In languages that have a system of cases, there is often agreement by case between a noun and its modifiers. For example, in German:

  • der gute Mann ("the good man", nominative case) vs. des guten Mann(e)s ("of the good man", genitive case)

In fact the modifiers of nouns in languages such as German and Latin agree with their nouns in number, gender and case; all three categories are conflated together in paradigms of declension.

Case agreement is not a significant feature of English (only personal pronouns and the pronoun who have any case marking). Agreement between such pronouns can sometimes be observed:

  • Who came first – he or his brother? vs. Whom did you see – him or his brother?

By language

Languages can have no conventional agreement whatsoever, as in Japanese or Malay; barely any, as in English; a small amount, as in spoken French; a moderate amount, as in Greek or Latin; or a large amount, as in Swahili.


Modern English does not have a particularly large amount of agreement, although it is present.

All regular verbs (and nearly all irregular ones) in English agree in the third-person singular of the present indicative by adding a suffix of either -s or -es. The latter is generally used after stems ending in the sibilants sh, ch, ss or zz (e.g. he rushes, it lurches, she amasses, it buzzes.)

Present tense of to love:

Person Number
Singular Plural
First I love we love
Second you love you love
Third he/she/it loves they love

There are not many irregularities in this formation:

  • to have, to go and to do render has, goes and does.

The highly irregular verb to be is the only verb with more agreement than this in the present tense.

Present tense of to be:

Person Number
Singular Plural
First I am we are
Second you are you are
Third he/she/it is they are

Future tense of "to be":

Person Number
Singular Plural
First I shall be we shall be
Second you will be you will be
Third he/she/it will be they will be

Emphatic future tense of "to be":

Person Number
Singular Plural
First I will be we will be
Second you shall be you shall be
Third he/she/it shall be they shall be

Note: the use of shall and the use of the emphatic tense are rare in Standard English.

In English, defective verbs generally show no agreement for person or number, they include the modal verbs: can, may, shall, will, must, should, ought.

In Early Modern English agreement existed for the second person singular of all verbs in the present tense, as well as in the past tense of some common verbs. This was usually in the form -est, but -st and -t also occurred. Note that this does not affect the endings for other persons and numbers.

Example present tense forms: thou wilt, thou shalt, thou art, thou hast, thou canst. Example past tense forms: thou wouldst, thou shouldst, thou wast, thou hadst, thou couldst

Note also the agreement shown by to be even in the subjunctive mood.

Imperfect subjunctive of to be in Early modern English
Person Number
Singular Plural
First (if) I were (if) we were
Second (if) thou wert (if) you were
Third (if) he/she/it were (if) they were

However, for nearly all regular verbs, a separate thou form was no longer commonly used in the past tense. Thus the auxiliary verb to do is used, e.g. thou didst help, not thou helpedst.


Compared with English, Latin (and Romance languages like Spanish and Italian) is an example of a highly inflected language. The consequences for agreement are thus:

Verbs must agree in person and number, and sometimes in gender, with their subjects. Articles and adjectives must agree in case, number and gender with the nouns they modify.

Sample Latin (Spanish) verb: the present indicative active of portare (llevar), to carry:

porto (llevo) - I carry
portas (llevas) - you [singular] carry
portat (lleva) - he carries
portamus (llevamos) - we carry
portatis (lleváis) - you [plural] carry
portant, (llevan) - they carry

Note also that the inflectional endings mean it is not necessary to include the subject pronoun, except for emphasis, or to avoid ambiguity in complex sentences. For this reason, Latin is described as a null-subject language.


Spoken French always distinguishes the second person plural, and the first person plural in formal speech, from each other and from the rest of the present tense in all verbs in the first conjugation (infinitives in -er) other than aller. The first person plural form and pronoun (nous) are now usually replaced by the pronoun on (literally: "one") and a third person singular verb form in Modern French. Thus, nous travaillons (formal) becomes on travaille. In most verbs from the other conjugations, each person in the plural can be distinguished among themselves and from the singular forms, again, when using the traditional first person plural. The other endings that appear in written French (i.e.: all singular endings, and also the third person plural of verbs other than those with infinitives in -er) are often pronounced the same, except in liaison contexts. Irregular verbs such as être, faire, aller, and avoir possess more distinctly pronounced agreement forms than regular verbs.

An example of this is the verb travailler, which goes as follows (the forms in bold type are pronounced /tʁa.vaj/):

  • je travaille
  • tu travailles
  • il travaille
  • nous travaillons, or on travaille
  • vous travaillez
  • ils travaillent

On the other hand, a verb like partir has (the forms in bold type are pronounced /paʁ/):

  • je pars
  • tu pars
  • il part
  • nous partons, or on part
  • vous partez
  • ils partent

The final S or T is silent, and the other three forms sound differently from one another and from the singular forms.

Adjectives agree in gender and number with the nouns that they modify in French. As with verbs, the agreements are sometimes only shown in spelling since forms that are written with different agreement suffixes are sometimes pronounced the same (e.g. joli, jolie); although in many cases the final consonant is pronounced in feminine forms, but silent in masculine forms (e.g. petit vs. petite). Most plural forms end in -s, but this consonant is only pronounced in liaison contexts, and it is determinants that help understand if the singular or plural is meant. The participles of verbs agree in gender and number with the subject or object in some instances.

Articles, possessives and other determinants also decline for number and (only in the singular) for gender, with plural determinants being the same for both genders. This normally produces three forms: one for masculine singular nouns, one for feminine singular nouns, and another for plural nouns of either gender:

  • Definite article: le, la, les
  • Indefinite article: un, une, des
  • Partitive article: du, de la, des
  • Possessives (for the first person singular): mon, ma, mes
  • Demonstratives: ce, cette, ces

Notice that some of the above also change (in the singular) if the following word begins with a vowel: le and la become l′, du and de la become de l′, ma becomes mon (as if the noun were masculine) and ce becomes cet.


In Hungarian, verbs have polypersonal agreement, which means they agree with more than one of the verb's arguments: not only its subject but also its (accusative) object. Difference is made between the case when there is a definite object and the case when the object is indefinite or there is no object at all. (The adverbs do not affect the form of the verb.) Examples: Szeretek (I love somebody or something unspecified), szeretem (I love him, her, it, or them, specifically), szeretlek (I love you); szeret (he loves me, us, you, someone, or something unspecified), szereti (he loves her, him, it, or them specifically). Of course, nouns or pronouns may specify the exact object. In short, there is agreement between a verb and the person and number of its subject and the specificity of its object (which often refers to the person more or less exactly).

See Definite and indefinite conjugations

The predicate agrees in number with the subject and if it is copulative (i.e., it consists of a noun/adjective and a linking verb), both parts agree in number with the subject. For example: A könyvek érdekesek voltak "The books were interesting" ("a": the, "könyv": book, "érdekes": interesting, "voltak": were): the plural is marked on the subject as well as both the adjectival and the copulative part of the predicate.

Within noun phrases, adjectives do not show agreement with the noun, e.g. a szép könyveitekkel "with your nice books" ("szép": nice): the suffixes of the plural, the possessive "your" and the case marking "with" are only marked on the noun.

Scandinavian languages

In Scandinavian languages, adjectives are declined according to the gender, number, and definiteness of the noun they modify. In some cases, predicative adjectives appear to disagree with their subjects. This phenomenon is referred to as Pancake sentences.

Slavic languages

Most Slavic languages are highly inflected, except for Bulgarian and Macedonian. The agreement is similar to Latin, for instance between adjectives and nouns in gender, number, case and animacy (if counted as a separate category). The following examples are from Serbian:

živim u malom stanu "I live in a small apartment" (masculine inanimate, singular, locative)
živim u maloj kući "I live in a small house" (feminine, singular, locative)
imam mali stan "I have a small apartment" (masculine inanimate, singular, accusative)
imam malu kuću "I have a small house" (feminine, singular, accusative)
imam malog psa "I have a small dog" (masculine animate, singular, accusative)

Verbs have 6 different forms in the present tense, for three persons in singular and plural. As in Latin, subject is frequently dropped.

Another characteristic is agreement in participles, which have different forms for different genders:

ja sam jela "I was eating" (female speaking)
ja sam jeo "I was eating" (male speaking)


Swahili, like all other Bantu languages, has numerous noun classes. Verbs must agree in class with their subjects and objects, and adjectives with the nouns that they qualify. For example: Kitabu kimoja kitatosha (One book will be enough), Mchungwa mmoja utatosha (One orange-tree will be enough), Chungwa moja litatosha (One orange will be enough).

There is also agreement in number. For example: Vitabu viwili vitatosha (Two books will be enough), Michungwa miwili itatosha (Two orange-trees will be enough), Machungwa mawili yatatosha (Two oranges will be enough).

Class and number are indicated with prefixes (or sometimes their absence), which are not always the same for nouns, adjectives and verbs, as illustrated by the examples.

See also


  1. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  2. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  3. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

Further reading

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Chapter 10.

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Chapter 1.

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

External links

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.