What Is a Compound Subject? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Compound Subject

A compound subject is a subject with two or more simple subjects. In other words, when the subject of a sentence is made up of two or more elements, it's a compound subject.

compound subject examples

In a compound subject, the simple subjects are joined by words like "and," "or," or "nor" (called coordinate conjunctions) or pairings like "either/or" and "neither/nor" (called correlative conjunctions).

Easy Examples of Compound Subjects

Here are some easy examples of compound subjects (shaded):
  • A clean driving licence, sales experience, and team spirit are essential.
  • A fool and his money are easily parted.
  • A driving permit or a passport is required.
  • My wife and I cannot attend unfortunately.
  • Neither the military nor the police has any suitable vehicles.

Real-Life Examples of Compound Subjects

Here are some real-life examples of compound subjects (shaded):
  • Beastie Boys and David Bowie are two of my favorite artists. (Comedian Anders Holm)
  • No man or woman has ever wrecked a good marriage. (Singer Jimmy Dean)
  • Neither the University of Michigan nor its law school uses a quota system. (Politician Adam Schiff)
  • Neither gods nor men foresee when an evil deed will bear its fruit. (Buddhist monk Bodhidharma)

Why Should I Care about Compound Subjects?

Here are two good reasons with care about compound subjects.

(Reason 1) Match your compound subject to the right verb.

After using a compound subject, writers are sometimes unsure whether to use a singular or plural verb. Here are the rules:

(Rule 1) "And" creates a plural.

When "and" joins two or more singular simple subjects, the verb is plural. For example:
  • Janet and John have a suggestion.
  • (The conjunction "and" makes the subject plural, even if the two simple subjects ("Janet" and "John") are singular.)

(Rule 2) "Or" does not create a plural.

When "or" joins two or more singular simple subjects, the verb is singular. For example:
  • Janet or John has a suggestion.
  • (The conjunction "or" does not make the subject plural, provided the simple subjects are singular of course.)
  • Janet or the men have a suggestion.
  • (The verb is now plural because one of the simple subjects ("the men") is plural.)
It's the same deal with "nor." For example:
  • Janet nor John has a suggestion.

(Rule 3) "As well as" does not create a plural.

Terms like "in conjunction with," "as well as," and "alongside" do not act like "and." They do not create a plural. For example:
  • Janet as well as John have a suggestion.
  • Janet as well as John has a suggestion.
Read more about subject-verb agreement.

(Rule 4) "Either/or" and "Neither/nor" do not create a plural.

When the simple subjects are singular, "either/or" and "neither/nor" do not create a plural. For example:
  • Neither Janet nor John have a suggestion.
  • Neither Janet nor John has a suggestion.
However, when one of the simple subjects is plural, things get tricky. There are two conventions: the Logic Rule and the Proximity Rule.

The Logic Rule

Under the Logic Rule, the verb is plural if one of the simple subjects is plural. For example:
  • Neither the men nor Janet have a suggestion.
  • (This is correct under the Logic Rule. As "the men" is plural, the verb ("have") is plural.)

The Proximity Rule

Under the Proximity Rule, the simple subject nearest the verb governs it. For example:
  • Neither the men nor Janet have a suggestion.
  • (This is wrong under the Proximity Rule because "Janet" (singular) is the nearest to the verb.)
  • Neither Janet nor the men have a suggestion.
  • (This is correct under the Proximity Rule and the Logic Rule.)
Here are some real-life examples:
  • Neither conscience nor sanity itself suggests that the United States is, should or could be the global gendarme. (Politician Robert McNamara)
  • (This is correct. Both simple subjects ("conscience" and "sanity") are singular, so the verb ("suggests") is singular.)
  • Neither comprehension nor learning takes place in an atmosphere of anxiety. (Philanthropist Rose Kennedy)
  • (This is correct. Both simple subjects ("comprehension" and "learning") are singular, so the verb ("takes") is singular.)
  • Neither current events nor history show that the majority rule, or ever did rule. (Politician Jefferson Davis)
  • (This is correct under the Logic Rule (as "events" is plural), but under the Proximity Rule, the verb would be "shows," i.e., singular.)
  • Neither science, nor the politics in power, nor the mass media, nor business, nor the law, nor even the military are in a position to define or control risks rationally. (German sociologist Ulrich Beck)
  • (This is correct under the Logic Rule (as "politics" is plural) but wrong under the Proximity Rule (which would expect "is").)
  • Neither this country nor our European friends need prolonged uncertainty. (British politician Andrea Leadsom)
  • (This is correct under the Logic Rule and the Proximity Rule as "friends" is plural and it's nearest the verb.)
Read more about using a singular or plural verb with or, either/or, and neither/nor.

(Reason 2) Think about marking the end of a long, compound subject with a comma.

It is possible to end a compound subject with a comma to group it neatly for your readers. This is not a popular practice amongst grammarians. However, if you think it helps, do it. For example:
  • Leaving a list of Internet passwords, increasing your life insurance and writing a will, will give you peace of mind while you are on operations.
  • (The author has ended the compound subject with a comma to make it clear where the subject ends. This is acceptable.)
Read more about ending a long, compound subject with a comma.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What is the subject of sentence? What are nouns? What are coordinate conjunctions? What are correlative conjunctions? What is subject-verb agreement? Using a singular or plural verb with or, either/or, and neither/nor Ending a long, compound subject with a comma Glossary of grammatical terms