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  1. Newbie
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      • Native Language:
      • American English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Aug 2016
    • Posts: 1

    Clash between plural subject and singular complement

    As an editor of a journal of ornithology, and a contributor to others, I see a trend over the last several years of referring to species in the plural, even if the sense is singular, leading to awkward clashes between plural subjects and singular complements, as in

    "Gray Vireos are one of the least-studied birds of North America."
    "Gray Vireos have been identified as a species of conservation concern."
    "A short-distance migrant, Gray Vireos winter primarily in Mexico."

    My solution is to refer to the species in the singular:

    "The Gray Vireo is one of the least-studied birds of North America."
    "The Gray Vireo has been identified as a species of conservation concern."
    "A short-distance migrant, the Gray Vireo winters primarily in Mexico."

    Yet authors and now even some editors--professors with doctorates in biology--resist the singular in this context and push for the plural. I would appreciate any recommendations for references I can cite that explain well why the singular should be preferred over the plural in this context. So far I have been unable to find a reference that addresses this situation head on. Also, if editors or readers are finding a trend toward this usage similarly pervasive in other fields, please share the story and any possible solutions.

    Thanks for your kind consideration,

    Philip Unitt
    San Diego Natural History Museum
    San Diego, California

  2. VIP Member
    Retired English Teacher
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      • British English
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      • Europe
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      • Czech Republic

    • Join Date: Jul 2015
    • Posts: 16,655

    Re: Clash between plural subject and singular complement

    Welcome to the forum, Philip.

    I, far from an expert in your field, agree with you. The singular form is logically and grammatically preferable. Professors with doctorates in biology are not necessarily experts in English grammar and style.

    However, if refereed journals are accepting sentences such as those you quote, then you'll have to go along with this.

    My wife, a PhD in economic geography and also an experienced TEFL teacher and teacher-trainer, is currently working in a leading research institution in central Europe. Among other things, she proofreads and edits articles on economics written by internationally recognised economists. When she asked one of the people for whom she edits and proofreads why he continued to use a couple of constructions that she had told him repeatedly were not correct grammatically, he told her "I know you are right from an English teacher's point of view, but I know that these turns of phrase are acceptable, almost mandatory, in my field".

    So, instead of looking for support in grammars and style guides, support that I know you'd find, I suggest you look at articles in your field. If the majority of writers go along with your idea, then you have ammunition. If they don't, you haven't.

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