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    #1

    A quick (and probably easy) question

    In a sentence like this one,

    "The cat, dog, pig, and horses were eating."

    Would the auxiliary verb be "were" or "was"?

    Is there a rule for auxiliary verbs and a list of things that include both plural and singular items? I'm pretty sure that I already know the answer to this question, but I want to make sure.

    Thanks in advance!

    EDIT: I'm reading East of Eden and here is a sentence that I am unsure of and sort of relates to this (maybe): "He, and all around him, was immortal." Is this sentence correct? How about a sentence like: "He and the three girls was/were walking across the street."
    Last edited by verso; 19-Jan-2009 at 06:55.

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    #2

    Re: A quick (and probably easy) question

    Quote Originally Posted by verso View Post
    In a sentence like this one,

    "The cat, dog, pig, and horses were eating."

    Would the auxiliary verb be "were" or "was"?

    Is there a rule for auxiliary verbs and a list of things that include both plural and singular items? I'm pretty sure that I already know the answer to this question, but I want to make sure.

    Thanks in advance!

    EDIT: I'm reading East of Eden and here is a sentence that I am unsure of and sort of relates to this (maybe): "He, and all around him, was immortal." Is this sentence correct? How about a sentence like: "He and the three girls was/were walking across the street."

    The "rule" is very simple:

    A and B (and C...) are. (at least two, so plural)
    It or they are. ("they" closer, so plural)
    They or it is. ("it" closer, so plural)

    In other words: if the conjunction is "and", the verb is always plural; if the conjunction is "or", the verb takes the number of the noun that comes last.

    This rule applies to sentences that have no particular or unusual emphasis. Like all rules, it has the all-important exception: rhetoric. Steinbeck wants to stress that he was immortal; that all around him was (or were?) also immortal is a mere detail. That is, the rule is easily broken to emphasize the most important subject of the verb.

    So the possibilities for your sentence are:

    He and the three girls were walking across the street. <-- Neutral: everyone mentioned was walking across the street.

    He, and the three girls, were walking across the street. <-- Ordinary emphasis on him. Note the commas to mark the significant brief pauses.

    He, and the three girls as well, were walking across the street. <-- Ordinary emphasis on the three girls.

    He, and the three girls [as well], was walking across the street. <-- Strong, strong emphasis on him. Be very careful if you really want to use this! (Steinbeck's style is his own. But he is a great writer, after all.)
    Last edited by abaka; 19-Jan-2009 at 15:55.


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    #3

    Re: A quick (and probably easy) question

    Quote Originally Posted by abaka View Post
    The "rule" is very simple:

    A and B (and C...) are. (at least two, so plural)
    It or they are. ("they" closer, so plural)
    They or it is. ("it" closer, so plural)

    In other words: if the conjunction is "and", the verb is always plural; if the conjunction is "or", the verb takes the number of the noun that comes last.

    This rule applies to sentences that have no particular or unusual emphasis. Like all rules, it has the all-important exception: rhetoric. Steinbeck wants to stress that he was immortal; that all around him were also immortal is a mere detail. That is, the rule is easily broken to emphasize the most important subject of the verb.

    So the possibilities for your sentence are:

    He and the three girls were walking across the street. <-- Neutral: everyone mentioned was walking across the street.
    He, and the three girls [as well], were walking across the street. <-- Ordinary emphasis on him. Note the commas to mark the significant brief pauses. "As well" is optional, but I'd recommend it to avoid confusion.
    He, and the three girls [as well], was walking across the street. <-- Strong, strong emphasis on him. Be very careful if you really want to use this! (Steinbeck's style is his own. But he is a great writer, after all.)
    OK, so if I understand you correctly, then the sentence would have to be "The cat, dog, pig, and horses were eating" and not "The cat, dog, pig, and horses was eating" because the conjunction is "and."

    If the sentence were to use the conjunction "or", then a correct sentence might look something like this: "The orange cat or the two black cats were walking." Correct? How about this: "The three gray cats, the two black cats or the orange cat was walking."

    Thank you so much for your reply! It's funny, because I am going to school so that one day I can teach English; and I know that questions like these (simple questions that, for some unknown reason, never seem to be discussed in any grammar class) will one day be asked, and I had better have an answer for my students!

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    #4

    Re: A quick (and probably easy) question

    Yes, in all cases.

    But of course, as my English teachers once told me, these long lists with the doubtful verbs when it's "or" are probably very poor writing.

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    #5

    Re: A quick (and probably easy) question

    Quote Originally Posted by abaka View Post
    Yes, in all cases.

    But of course, as my English teachers once told me, these long lists with the doubtful verbs when it's "or" are probably very poor writing.
    I absolutely agree with you, I find some of these excersises given by teachers are a bit exaggerated. Notionally grammatically correct, they are unused and unusable.

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