technically correct subject-verb agreement

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OHIOU.EDU
Thu Dec 30 23:05:17 UTC 2004

The singular, absolutely (except for the "there were drinks" model).  The
plural verb with a singular noun following sounds posh, literary,
phoney.  "There were kudos" works for me though, even if "kudos" is
technically singular.  Reanalyzed to plural for most, I suspect.

At 03:14 PM 12/30/2004, you wrote:
>Rest easy; I am at least one more very local agreement person who
>hates the "There were liquor and ...." but can tolerate "There were
>drinks and..." (when I am out of my fixed form dialect, which is my
>vernacular and perhaps the only trustworthy one for me to report on
>(if such personal reports are worth anything outside folk
>PS: Just to be mean, like all prescriptivists, really are, let's test
>one of these with "There was/were kudos,..."
>>On Dec 29, 2004, at 8:44 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>>>>This sentence sounds fine to me.
>>>Only the singular is possible for me here.  It wouldn't be perfect,
>>>but a lot more natural than the plural.
>>>>>Going to his house was what I lived for. There were liquor, music,
>>>>>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
>Dennis R. Preston
>University Distinguished Professor of Linguistics
>Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian, and African Languages
>A-740 Wells Hall
>Michigan State University
>East Lansing, MI 48824
>Phone: (517) 432-3099
>Fax: (517) 432-2736
>preston at

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