CONCORD OF VERB AND SUBJECT IN NUMBER.
439. In English, the number of the verb follows the meaning rather than the form of its subject.
It will not do to state as a general rule that the verb agrees with its subject in person and number. This was spoken of in Part I., Sec. 276, and the following illustrations prove it.
The statements and illustrations of course refer to such verbs as have separate forms for singular and plural number.
440. The singular form of the verb is used-Subject of singular form.
(1) When the subject has a singular form and a singular meaning.
Such, then, was the earliest American land. -Agassiz.
He was certainly a happy fellow at this time.- G. Eliot .
He sees that it is better to live in peace. -Cooper.Collective noun of singular meaning.
(2) When the subject is a collective noun which represents a number of persons or things taken as one unit; as,-
The larger breed [of camels] is capable of transporting a weight of a thousand pounds. -Gibbon.
Another school professes entirely opposite principles.- The Nation.
In this work there was grouped around him a score of men. -W. Phillips
A number of jeweled paternosters was attached to her girdle. -Froude.
Something like a horse load of books has been written to prove that it was the beauty who blew up the booby. -Carlyle
This usage, like some others in this series, depends mostly on the writer's own judgment. Another writer might, for example, prefer a plural verb after number in Froude's sentence above.Singulars connected by or or nor.
(3) When the subject consists of two or more singular nouns connected by or or nor; as,-
It is by no means sure that either our literature, or the great intellectual life of our nation, has got already, without academies, all that academies can give.- M. Arnold .
Jesus is not dead, nor John, nor Paul, nor Mahomet. -Emerson.Plural form and singular meaning.
(4) When the subject is plural in form, but represents a number of things to be taken together as forming one unit; for example,-
Thirty-four years affects one's remembrance of some circumstances. -De Quincey.
Between ourselves, three pounds five shillings and two pence is no bad day's work. -Goldsmith.
Every twenty paces gives you the prospect of some villa; and every four hours, that of a large town. -Montague
Two thirds of this is mine by right. -Sheridan
The singular form is also used with book titles, other names, and other singulars of plural form; as,-
Politics is the only field now open for me. -Whittier.
"Sesame and Lilies"is Ruskin's creed for young girls.- Critic, No. 674
The Three Pigeons expects me down every moment. -Goldsmith.Several singular subjects to one singular verb.
(5) With several singular subjects not disjoined by or or nor, in the following cases:-
(a) Joined by and, but considered as meaning about the same thing, or as making up one general idea; as,-
In a word, all his conversation and knowledge has been in the female world -Addison.
The strength and glare of each [color] is considerably abated. -Burke
To imagine that debating and logic is the triumph. -Carlyle
In a world where even to fold and seal a letter adroitly is not the least of accomplishments. -De Quincey
The genius and merit of a rising poet was celebrated. -Gibbon.
When the cause of ages and the fate of nations hangs upon the thread of a debate.- J. Q. Adams .
(b) Not joined by a conjunction, but each one emphatic, or considered as appositional; for example,-
The unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone. -Burke.
A fever, a mutilation, a cruel disappointment, a loss of wealth, a loss of friends, seemsat the moment unpaid loss. -Emerson
The author, the wit, the partisan, the fine gentleman, does not take the place of the man.- Id.
To receive presents or a bribe, to be guilty of collusion in any way with a suitor, waspunished, in a judge, with death. -Prescott.
Subjects after the verb.
This use of several subjects with a singular verb is especially frequent when the subjects are after the verb; as,-
There is a right and a wrong in them. -M Arnold.
There is a moving tone of voice, an impassioned countenance, an agitated gesture. -Burke
There was a steel headpiece, a cuirass, a gorget, and greaves, with a pair of gauntlets and a sword hanging beneath. -Hawthorne.
Then comes the "Why, sir!" and the "What then, sir?" and the "No, sir!" -Macaulay.For wide is heard the thundering fray,
The rout, the ruin, the dismay.
(c) Joined by as well as (in this case the verb agrees with the first of the two, no matter if the second is plural); thus,-
Asia, as well as Europe, was dazzled. -Macaulay.The oldest, as well as the newest, wine
Begins to stir itself.
Her back, as well as sides, was like to crack. -Butler.
The Epic, as well as the Drama, is divided into tragedy and Comedy. -Fielding
(d) When each of two or more singular subjects is preceded by every, each, no, many a, and such like adjectives.
Every fop, every boor, every valet, is a man of wit. -Macaulay.
Every sound, every echo, was listened to for five hours. -De Quincey
Every dome and hollow has the figure of Christ. -Ruskin.
Each particular hue and tint stands by itself. -Newman.
Every law and usage was a man's expedient. -Emerson.
Here is no ruin, no discontinuity, no spent ball.- Id.
Every week, nay, almost every day, was set down in their calendar for some appropriate celebration. -Prescott.
441. The plural form of the verb is used-
(1) When the subject is plural in form and in meaning; as,-
These bits of wood were covered on every square. -Swift.
Far, far away thy children leave the land. -Goldsmith.
The Arabian poets were the historians and moralists. -Gibbon.
(2) When the subject is a collective noun in which the individuals of the collection are thought of; as,-
A multitude go mad about it. -Emerson.
A great number of people were collected at a vendue. -Franklin.
All our household are at rest. -Coleridge.
A party of workmen were removing the horses. -Lew Wallace
The fraternity were inclined to claim for him the honors of canonization. -Scott.
The travelers, of whom there were a number.- B. Taylor .
(3) When the subject consists of several singulars connected by and, making up a plural subject, for example,-
Only Vice and Misery are abroad. -Carlyle
But its authorship, its date, and its history are alike a mystery to us. -Froude.
His clothes, shirt, and skin were all of the same color -Swift.
Aristotle and Longinus are better understood by him than Littleton or Coke. -Addison.
The conjunction may be omitted, as in Sec. 440 (5, b), but the verb is plural, as with a subject of plural form.
A shady grove, a green pasture, a stream of fresh water, are sufficient to attract a colony. -Gibbon.
The Dauphin, the Duke of Berri, Philip of Anjou, were men of insignificant characters. -Macaulay
(4) When a singular is joined with a plural by a disjunctive word, the verb agrees with the one nearest it; as,-
One or two of these perhaps survive. -Thoreau.
One or two persons in the crowd were insolent. -Froude.
One or two of the ladies were going to leave. -Addison
One or two of these old Cromwellian soldiers were still alive in the village. -Thackeray
One or two of whom were more entertaining. -De Quincey.
But notice the construction of this,-
A ray or two wanders into the darkness. -Ruskin.
AGREEMENT OF VERB AND SUBJECT IN PERSON.
442. If there is only one person in the subject, the ending of the verb indicates the person of its subject; that is, in those few cases where there are forms for different persons: as,-
Never once didst thou revel in the vision. -De Quincey.
Romanism wisely provides for the childish in men. -Lowell.
It hath been said my Lord would never take the oath. -Thackeray.
Second or third and first person in the subject.
443. If the subject is made up of the first person joined with the second or third by and, the verb takes the construction of the first person, the subject being really equivalent towe; as,-
I flatter myself you and I shall meet again. -Smollett.
You and I are farmers; we never talk politics. -D. Webster.Ah, brother! only I and thou
Are left of all that circle now.
You and I are tolerably modest people. -Thackeray.
Cocke and I have felt it in our bones- Gammer Gurton's Needle
With adversative or disjunctive connectives.
444. When the subjects, of different persons, are connected by adversative or disjunctive conjunctions, the verb usually agrees with the pronoun nearest to it; for example,-
Neither you nor I should be a bit the better or wiser. -Ruskin.
If she or you are resolved to be miserable. -Goldsmith.
Nothing which Mr. Pattison or I have said.- M. Arnold .
Not Altamont, but thou, hadst been my lord. -Rowe.
Not I, but thou, his blood dost shed. -Byron.
This construction is at the best a little awkward. It is avoided either by using a verb which has no forms for person (as, "He or I can go," "She or you may be sure," etc.), or by rearranging the sentence so as to throw each subject before its proper person form (as, "You would not be wiser, nor should I;" or, "I have never said so, nor hasshe").
445. The following illustrate exceptional usage, which it is proper to mention; but the student is cautioned to follow the regular usage rather than the unusual and irregular.
Change each of the following sentences to accord with standard usage, as illustrated above (Secs. 440- 444):-1. And sharp Adversity will teach at last
Man,-and, as we would hope,-perhaps the devil,
That neither of their intellects are vast.
2. Neither of them, in my opinion, give so accurate an idea of the man as a statuette in bronze. -Trollope.
3. How each of these professions are crowded. -Addison.
4. Neither of their counselors were to be present.- Id.
5. Either of them are equally good to the person to whom they are significant. -Emerson.
6. Neither the red nor the white are strong and glaring. -Burke.
7. A lampoon or a satire do not carry in them robbery or murder. -Addison.
8. Neither of the sisters were very much deceived. -Thackeray.9. Nor wood, nor tree, nor bush are there,
Her course to intercept.
10. Both death and I am found eternal. -Milton.
11. In ascending the Mississippi the party was often obliged to wade through morasses; at last they came upon the district of Little Prairie.- G. Bancroft .
12. In a word, the whole nation seems to be running out of their wits. -Smollett.
SEQUENCE OF TENSES (VERBS AND VERBALS).Lack of logical sequence in verbs.
446. If one or more verbs depend on some leading verb, each should be in the tense that will convey the meaning intended by the writer.
In this sentence from Defoe, "I expected every wave would have swallowed us up," the verb expected looks forward to something in the future, while would have swallowedrepresents something completed in past time: hence the meaning intended was, "I expected every wave would swallow" etc.
Also in verbals.
In the following sentence, the infinitive also fails to express the exact thought:-
I had hoped never to have seen the statues again. -Macaulay.
The trouble is the same as in the previous sentence; to have seen should be changed toto see, for exact connection. Of course, if the purpose were to represent a prior fact or completed action, the perfect infinitive would be the very thing.
It should be remarked, however, that such sentences as those just quoted are in keeping with the older idea of the unity of the sentence. The present rule is recent.
Explain whether the verbs and infinitives in the following sentences convey the right meaning; if not, change them to a better form:-
1. I gave one quarter to Ann, meaning, on my return, to have divided with her whatever might remain. -De Quincey
2. I can't sketch "The Five Drapers," ... but can look and be thankful to have seen such a masterpiece. -Thackeray.
3. He would have done more wisely to have left them to find their own apology than to have given reasons which seemed paradoxes.- R. W. Church .
4. The propositions of William are stated to have contained a proposition for a compromise. -Palgrave
5. But I found I wanted a stock of words, which I thought I should have acquired before that time. -Franklin
6. I could even have suffered them to have broken Everet Ducking's head. -Irving.