Agreement (linguistics)

Agreement (linguistics)

In languages, agreement or concord is a form of cross-reference between different parts of a sentence or phrase. Agreement happens when a word changes form depending on the other words to which it relates.

For example, one does not say I is in English, because is cannot be used when the subject is I. The word is is said not to agree with the word I. This is why the grammatical form is I am, even though the verb still has the same function and basic meaning.

The agreement based on overt grammatical numbers as above is formal agreement, in contrast to notional agreement that does so based on meaning.



Agreement often adds redundancy to languages. In addition, in some languages, agreement allows word order to be varied without resorting to case endings. In Swahili, with its many noun classes, if a verb's arguments have different classes, a word order other than the default subject–verb–object (SVO) can be used because agreement makes it clear which words belong to the subject and which belong to the object(s). Common types of characteristics that may trigger grammatical agreement are:

See also Grammatical conjugation, for other agreement categories.


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 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 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 verb: the present indicative active of portare, to carry:

porto - I carry
portas - you [singular] carry
portat - he carries
portamus - we carry
portatis - you [plural] carry
portant - 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 first person plural and the second person plural from each other and from the rest of the present tense in all verbs in the first conjugation (infinitives in -er) other than "aller". In most verbs from the other conjugations, each person in the plural can be distinguished among themselves and from the singular forms. 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 sound /travaj/):

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

On the other hand, a verb like "partir" has:

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

Again, the forms in bold type sound alike (the final S or T is silent), and the other three forms sound differently from one another and from the singular forms.

However in liaison contexts, the final consonant is pronounced, helping differentiate at least "part" from "pars".

Adjectives agree in gender and number with the nouns they modify in French. As with verbs, 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.

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 characteristics 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


  • Corbett, Greville (1994) "Agreement". In R.E. Asher (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Oxford: Pergamon Press. 54–60.
  • Corbett, Greville (2006) Agreement. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Givon, Talmy (1984) Syntax. A Functional Typological Introduction. Vol 1. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Chapter 10.
  • Mel'čuk, Igor (2006): Aspects of the theory of morphology. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter. Chapter 1.
  • Moravcsik, Edith A. (1978). "Agreement". In: Joseph Greenberg, (ed.), Universals of Human Language. vol. 4. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 331–374.

External links

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