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    • Join Date: Apr 2009
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    #1

    was or were

    Dear teachers,
    I have a sentence in which I don't know what to use - was or were. Could you help me.

    All they could have was/were bread and margarine, boiled potatoes and cabbage soup.

    Thank you.

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    #2

    Smile Re: was or were

    Quote Originally Posted by natasha View Post
    Dear teachers,
    I have a sentence in which I don't know what to use - was or were. Could you help me.

    All they could have was/were bread and margarine, boiled potatoes and cabbage soup.

    Thank you.
    The head of the subject is all, hence you're supposed to use was.


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    #3

    Re: was or were

    Quote Originally Posted by engee30 View Post
    The head of the subject is all, hence you're supposed to use was.
    Thank you very much.
    I think I heard 'All are present'. Is it incorrect?

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    #4

    Cool Re: was or were

    Quote Originally Posted by natasha View Post
    Thank you very much.
    I think I heard 'All are present'. Is it incorrect?
    That is not the correct way to say:
    Everyone is present.

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    #5

    Re: was or were

    Hey Engee, what if I say:

    The only things (instead of all) they could have...
    Then you have to use were.
    All they could have was/were bread and margarine, boiled potatoes and cabbage soup.
    ?All they could have was three things.

    At the risk of spoiling the soup, I'd plump for:
    All they could have were bread and margarine, boiled potatoes and cabbage soup.


    All are/were present is fine.

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    #6

    Cool Re: was or were

    Quote Originally Posted by pedroski View Post
    hey engee, what if i say:

    The only things (instead of all) they could have...
    Then you have to use were. yep, but here, you've got the only things (not the only thing or everything)
    all they could have was/were bread and margarine, boiled potatoes and cabbage soup.
    ?all they could have was three things. in colloquial language, people often use were.

    at the risk of spoiling the soup, i'd plump for:
    All they could have were bread and margarine, boiled potatoes and cabbage soup. when followed by a relative clause (often with that omitted), all is the head of the subject and never takes a plural verb form!


    all are/were present is fine. of course it's fine, but only when you're referring back to something mentioned earlier.

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    #7

    Re: was or were

    Is this similar to 'the police' is/are waiting?
    All represents a number of things, but takes a singular verb form?


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    #8

    Re: was or were

    I think I heard 'All are present'. Is it incorrect?

    Yes.
    all = each and everyone

    "All present and correct, Sergeant."
    "All the men are present."
    plural count noun

    compare

    all = the sum total

    The sum total of my earnings for the day was twenty-five dollars.
    All I earned was twenty-five dollars.
    All the information is up-to-date.
    (uncount noun)

    All of the class is present - referring to the class as a single entity.
    All of the class are present -referring to its individual members.

    and so:
    All they could have (the sum total of food rations) was bread and margarine, boiled potatoes and cabbage soup.

    and
    The police are waiting - 'police' is treated as a plural noun
    compare
    A police officer is waiting to see you.

    All they could have was/were bread and margarine, boiled potatoes and cabbage soup.
    ?All they could have was three things.

    All = the sum total........but then you count the individual items - each and everyone of them - that comprise the total/totality : 'three things'
    and so are then faced with needing a plural verb to agree with 'things''!
    Last edited by David L.; 17-Apr-2009 at 13:45.

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    #9

    Cool Re: was or were

    Quote Originally Posted by Pedroski View Post
    Is this similar to 'the police' is/are waiting?
    All represents a number of things, but takes a singular verb form?
    Just like David L. wrote in his post, police is treated as a plural noun; hence, you're supposed to use a plural verb with it.

    All represents the whole amount or number of something, not a number of things, which makes a difference in my opinion.
    So, you can take all as everything:
    The burglars took all (= everything) I had.
    All I had was taken by the burglars.


    Or, you can treat all as the only thing(s):
    All I want is a good night's sleep and some food and drink.
    A good night's sleep and some food and drink is all I want.

    Or, you can use all while referring to people:
    There were three people in the car. All were killed in the accident.

    Quote Originally Posted by David L. View Post
    All = the sum total........but then you count the individual items - each and everyone of them - that comprise the total/totality : 'three things'
    and so are then faced with needing a plural verb to agree with 'things''!
    All can mean each and every one, not each and everyone.

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    #10

    Re: was or were

    I would always say: The police are here, except in German, then I would say: The police is here!

    I would say: 'The whole bloody Army is here!'

    I don't really know why. The Army and the police are bodies of people, plural in their essence. So I presume we are dealing with an idiom here?
    Sticking with the Army:

    Captain Jenkins: "Are all the men here Sergeant?"
    Sergeant: "All is present and correct Sir."

    Doesn't sound right! I would put 'are'. But then, the 'All is present and correct Sir' is ellipsed, is it not? Should be 'All the men are present and correct, Sir.' That makes this 'all' an adverb, if I am not mistaken (easily happens), as it answers the question 'How much?'

    All has a lot of meanings: Webster's says it can be a pronoun, singular or plural in construction. It doesn't say it has to mean each and everyone. I tend interpret it as 'each and everyone of them', them being a plural pronoun. So I would look for the plural verb form to accompany it.
    Engee says it always takes the singular, which I can follow if you say it means 'the sum total', or 'everything' then yes, use was.

    Three little letters and a mass of confusion!

    Can all be used as a pronoun with a plural verb form ever?

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