technically correct subject-verb agreement

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Thu Dec 30 18:50:42 UTC 2004

On Dec 29, 2004, at 8:44 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:

>> This sentence sounds fine to me.
>> Patty
> Only the singular is possible for me here.  It wouldn't be perfect,
> but a lot more natural than the plural.
> larry
>>> Going to his house was what I lived for. There were liquor, music,
>>> and
>>> a strong desire for my body.

just to remind people: this isn't a vote on what the "real" grammar of
english is, or should be.  i expect variation here.  of those who have
agreeing, rather than fixed, verb forms in existentials, i'd  expect
some people to treat the coordinate phrase as just like simplex plurals
(There were/*was many people there); this is what patty davies reports.
  but for this coordinate example, i find only the singular fully
acceptable, and i'm pleased to hear that at least one other person

what's going on for me is a small island of grammaticalized agreement
with the nearest .  (i have no idea what the full extent of the
phenomenon is for me.)  the example above contrasts (for me) with the
minimally different:
   There were/*was drinks, music, and a strong desire for my body.

arnold (zwicky at

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