So a noun (and its plural) walk[s] into a bar...

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diotimajsh
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So a noun (and its plural) walk[s] into a bar...

Postby diotimajsh » Tue Mar 16, 2010 8:18 pm UTC

The title is basically what I'm curious about, although in my effort to be clever that probably isn't clear. In a situation where a parenthetical item pluralizes a subject that would otherwise be singular, how does that affect verb agreement? (Alternatively, I think this might be said, "In a situation where a parenthetical remark turns a subject from simple to compound.")

E.g.,
Desmond (and Molly) are happy in the marketplace.
Desmond (and Molly) is happy in the marketplace.

Or,
Molly (and Desmond) sing in a band.
Molly (and Desmond) sings in a band.


I suspect most grammar advice sources will say that this situation shouldn't ever arise: sentence subjects are too important to be omissible as per the nature of parentheses. But, sometimes you may want to do this for stylistic reasons; indeed, the same question applies to multiple subjects interrupted by dashes for emphasis. E.g.,

Molly—and Desmond!—are buying a twenty-karat golden ring.
Molly—and Desmond!—is buying a twenty-karat golden ring.

With dashes, it feels more natural to me to use the singular verb, I think because it feels like the two are made that much more distinct. I feel less certain about parentheses, however. ETA: No, upon further reflection, I'm not sure either way feels more natural right off the bat.
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tetromino
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Re: So a noun (and its plural) walk[s] into a bar...

Postby tetromino » Tue Mar 16, 2010 8:53 pm UTC

Try saying the sentence out loud; the parentheses are silent, and the singular verb will sound completely ungrammatical. So I think that in terms of verb agreement, "X (and Y)" should be treated the same as "X and Y".

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Re: So a noun (and its plural) walk[s] into a bar...

Postby Twelfthroot » Tue Mar 16, 2010 8:54 pm UTC

As with many borderline / irregularly-prescribed grammar situations, I'd suggest you use whichever you think to be most fitting as long as you can defend it. If you think Desmond (and Molly) as one entity in some sense, use a singular verb; if you think the parenthesized agent is a likely participant to the extent that there are essentially two subjects, go plural. If you want to emphasize the ambiguity and your attentiveness to the grammatical curiosity of the situation, go with "Molly (and Desmond) sing(s) in a band."

Personally, I would go with a plural verb, because I read those sentences as clearly having two subjects, one of which just happens to be of less importance or somehow parenthetical to the statement. In the sentence with "--and Desmond!--" I could see a singular verb, but I can't think of many situations where that would be the most natural or informative way to phrase it.

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Re: So a noun (and its plural) walk[s] into a bar...

Postby Qaanol » Wed Mar 17, 2010 10:36 pm UTC

The issue you bring up does indeed exist, but the wording you've chosen scarcely illuminates it. Somewhat better would be OR rather than AND. Thus,

“One dog or two cats (is/are) behind the curtain.”

“Either my aunt and uncle or just my aunt (is/are) walking on the beach.”
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Re: So a noun (and its plural) walk[s] into a bar...

Postby diotimajsh » Sat Mar 20, 2010 5:45 am UTC

Thanks for the input, guys.

Qaanol, why would say that your examples are any better than with "and"? I think you may have misunderstood my question: your examples do not contain any partially-parenthetical compound subjects. There are already established rules for handling OR (and AND) in non-parenthetical contexts like the ones you listed. To wit,
The conjunction or does not conjoin (as and does): when nor or or is used the subject closer to the verb determines the number of the verb. Whether the subject comes before or after the verb doesn't matter; the proximity determines the number.



If we return to the question I originally asked, I don't see why "or" would be any clearer "and". There are just as many situations where "and" feels unnatural as there are for "or"--which is to say, two situations each.

"He (or she) is..."; with or without the parenthetical, it will be singular. No problem.
"He (and she) is.."; it would be singular alone, but with the parenthetical it would be plural. Weird.
"She (or they) is..."; would be singular alone; but with the parenthetical, our closest subject is plural, so we should expect a plural verb. Weird.
"She (and they) is..."; would be singular alone, but plural with parenthetical. Weird.
"They (or she) are"; would be plural alone, but singular with parenthetical. Weird.
"They (and she) are"; plural with or without the parenthetical. No problem.
"They (or the others) are"; plural with or without. No problem.
"They (and the others) are;" plural with or without, no problem.
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