Words That Intervene Between Subject and Verb

In standard sentence construction, you'll typically find the subject and the verb positioned adjacent to each other. This type of construction provides clarity, as the subject directly performs the action articulated by the verb. However, that's not always the case. Often, words or a group of words might intervene between the subject and its verb, which can complicate things a bit, but is still grammatically correct. In this guide, we will delve into the intricacies of these situations.

Understanding the Basics

While it's most common to see the subject of a sentence immediately followed by the verb, English grammar allows for different types of constructs where words or a group of words might come in between them. These words can include introductory phrases, interrupting phrases, or dependent clauses. The key to maintaining grammatical correctness is ensuring subject-verb agreement despite the intervening words.


Regular construct: "The dog barks loudly."

Intervening words: "The dog, whenever it sees strangers, barks loudly."

Types of Words or Phrases That Intervene

There are several different types of words or phrases that can come between the subject and verb:

  • Interrupting Phrases and Clauses
  • Relative Clauses
  • Participle Phrases
  • Introductory Phrases and Clauses
  • Interrupting Phrases and Clauses

    These are nonessential elements that might be inserted in the middle of a sentence, but the sentence would still make sense without them.


    "My brother, who is an excellent cook, often makes dinner."

    In this sentence, "who is an excellent cook" is the interrupting phrase. It provides additional information about the brother but is not essential to the sentence as "My brother often makes dinner" is a complete, meaningful sentence on its own.

    Relative Clauses

    A relative clause is a type of dependent clause that adds extra information to the sentence. Such a clause, which can come in between the subject and verb, often begins with who, whose, whom, which, or that.


    "The man who lives next door is a doctor."

    In this sentence, "who lives next door" is a relative clause, adding information about "the man", which is the subject of the sentence.

    Participle Phrases

    Participle phrases often act like adjectives, providing supplemental information about the subject of the sentence. They can precede or follow the subject, thus intervening between the subject and the verb.


    "The student, struggling to meet the deadline, hurriedly submitted his assignment."

    "Struggling to meet the deadline" is the participle phrase in this example, offering additional info about the student.

    Introductory Phrases and Clauses

    Introductory clauses or phrases often set the stage for the main subject-verb action in the sentence. If they follow the subject, they create an interruption between the subject and the verb.


    "John, after finishing his homework, went to bed."

    "After finishing his homework" is an introductory phrase, providing context for the action taken by John.

    Rules for Subject-Verb Agreement with Intervening Words

    To maintain grammatical correctness when words intervene between the subject and verb, it's crucial to keep proper subject-verb agreement. Here are the rules:

  • Ignore the intervening phrases or clauses when determining whether the verb should be singular or plural. The verb should match the subject, not the noun or pronoun in the interrupting phrase.
  • Example:

    Incorrect: "The team of engineers work on the project."

    Correct: "The team of engineers works on the project."

  • For sentences with relative clauses, the verb should be in agreement with the antecedent, which is the noun that the relative pronoun refers to.
  • Example:

    "The books that are on the desk belong to my roommate."

    In this sentence, the plural verb "belong" matches with the plural noun "books".

    While these rules are fairly straightforward, they require practice to apply correctly. But with time and practice, you'll be adept at using different sentence structures and maintaining subject-verb agreement, despite intervening words or phrases.

    Exercises to Practice

    To test your understanding and application of these rules, here are a few exercises:

  • Craft sentences using each type of intervening construct discussed.
  • Identify the subject, verb, and intervening words or clauses in different sentences.
  • Correct sentences where the subject-verb agreement is incorrect due to intervening words.
  • Through these exercises, you can enforce your learning and get comfortable with using and understanding phrases or words that intervene between subject and verb. Remember, the key to being good at grammar is constant practice, so keep writing and keep learning!

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