Stewarts corner

Guidelines to help with agreement between subjects and verbs

Part 2: When to use plural verbs

1. Nouns/pronouns referring to different things that are linked by «and»:
If two or more singular units are linked by «and», a plural verb is used providing they refer to different things. Examples of this are: «The low cost and the climate attract tourists» «Information and knowledge are essential for the international traveller»

If one of the nouns is omitted, the same rule still applies: «Norwegian and Swedish soccer are highly rated».

Care is needed in expressions where the meaning may not unclear. We know that Norwegian soccer and Swedish soccer are different so we need a plural verb, but does your reader know that? What about «smoked and cured ham»? A plural verb will indicate two types of ham, a singular verb means one type of ham in a single process.

Also compare «research and development are both vital», with the abbreviation R&D. Where the latter is usually considered to be one unit linked by «and», thus taking a singular verb: «R&D isŠ» (more in Part 3).

2. Some compound phrases: Note that in the following compound phrases the plural ending (usually -s or -es) is added to the most significant word. Even though some of these phrases do not end in «s», remember to use a plural verb. Examples of such compound phrases are:
attorneys at law
deputy judges
lieutenant colonels
trade unions
3. Some words that only are used in the plural:
As some of these words correspond to singular Norwegian words, remember to use a plural verb in English: accounts (regnskap), binoculars, jeans, nut crackers, oats, office hours, opening hours, pincers, pliers, proceeds, pyjamas, scissors, shorts, tongues (tang), trunks (badebukser), trousers, wages, working hours.

Many of these words have the concept of a «pair». With these, a plural verb is correct when used alone: «tungsten pliers are expensive». But a singular verb is correct if «a pair of» is used in front: «a pair of tungsten pliers is expensive».

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Oppdatert: 27. Feb 1997