Russian Language Grammar

    Agreement in Number

In certain instances, the agreement of verb predicates with subjects is governed by rather complex rules. Those given below should not be regarded as rigid; they are given merely as guidance.


1.   With two or more subjects and one predicate, the general rules are:

   (a)   When the predicate follows the subjects, it is normally in the plural:

Книга и газета лежат на столе.

The book and the paper are lying on the table.

Шум и крик раздавались везде. (Пушкин) 

Noise and shouts were sounding everywhere.

   (b)   When the predicate precedes the subjects, it is usually in the singular:

На столе лежит книга и газета.

On the table are lying a book and a paper.

В деревне послышался топот и крики. (Л. Толстой)

In the village were (suddenly) heard stamping and shouts.

However, the plural can also used, especially if one of the nouns is in the plural:

Из соседней комнаты слышались рыдание и крики. From the room next door weeping and cries were heard.

   (c)   When the subjects are persons, the predicate is in the plural, regardless of its position in the sentence.

Вечером пришли Павел и Иван.

In the evening came Paul and John.

Брат и сестра уезжают завтра.

My brother and my sister are leaving tomorrow.


2.   When the compound subject includes много, немного, мало, сколько or столько, the predicate is in the singular:

Сколько учеников пришло на урок?

How many pupils came to the lesson?

Много людей пришло на собрание.

Many people came to the meeting.


Многие люди ушли рано.

Quite a few people (among them) left early.


3.   When the compound subject includes – большинство, меньшинство, or несколько, the predicate is either in the singular or (sometimes) in the plural

   (a)   The construction with the predicate in the singular expresses a somewhat passive idea:

Большинство учеников было отправлено в лагерь. 

Most pupils were sent to the camp.

Большинство этих писем пришло утром. 

Most of these letters arrived in the morning.

   (b)   The predicate in the plural may be found in sentences which express a more active idea (and therefore is used with persons as subjects):

Большинство учеников уехали в лагерь.

Most of the pupils left for camp.

   (c)   The same idea of a passive action versus an active one is true of несколько:

За дверью находилось несколько человек и как будто кого-то отталкивали.

Behind the door were a few people, who, it seemed, were pushing someone away.

Note:   When большинство or меньшинство function as independent subjects, the predicate must be in the singular:

Большинство голосовало за резолюцию.

The majority voted for the resolution.

Меньшинство голосовало против.

The minority voted against.


4.   When the subject is expressed by a numeral and noun, the following rules govern the agreement:

   (a)   With one, the predicate is, of course, in the singular:

Прошла одна неделя.

One week passed.

   (b)   With two, three, or four, the predicate is usually in the plural:

Три мальчика пришли утром.

Three boys came in the morning.

Две книги лежат на столе.

Two books are lying on the table.

However, the singular predicate is used in impersonal constructions:

У него было два чемодана.

Не had two suitcases.

   (с)   With numerals from five up, a subtle distinction is made, depending on whether the subject is thought of as an entity, or as consisting of separate units.

In the first case, the predicate is in the singular:

Прошло пять минут.

Five minutes passed. (a length of time)

Сюда войдёт восемь вёдер воды.

This will hold eight buckets of water. (a measure)

In the second case, the predicate is in the plural:

Пять человек принесли подарки.

Five people brought presents. (independent actions by different persons)

Sometimes the choice is less obvious:

В классе сидело десять учеников.

There were ten pupils sitting in the classroom.

is very close to:

Десять учеников сидели в классе.

Ten pupils were sitting in the classroom.

Sometimes the choice is a delicate matter, no longer confined to grammar. The speaker actually determines whether one word or a group of words should be considered the "primary" or "secondary" part of a sentence (in the sense these terms are used by O.Jespersen).

   (d)   The predicate is in the singular when the subject expresses approxi­mation:

Получено около сорока книг.

About forty books were received.

Там работает человек тридцать.

About thirty people work there.

   (e)   The predicate is in the singular when the subject expresses limita­tion:

Только шесть домов было построено.

Only six houses were built.

Пришло всего десять студентов.

Only ten students came.

   (f)   When two nouns are joined by the preposition c, the predicate may be either in the singular or in the plural. The plural suggests a certain equality between the two nouns.

Муж с женой пошли на концерт.

The husband and (with) the wife went to the concert.

Отец с детьми гулял в парке.

The father walked in the park with the children.