Singular or plural verb



Should a singular or plural verb be used in the following sentences?

(a) There was/were dust and dirt all over the place.

(b) Wherever there is/are enough light and water, those plants will grow.

Seattle, Washington


While it is true that both sentences contain compound subjects, the singular verb is perfectly correct in both cases. The singular verb can be used because "dust and dirt" and "light and water" can be considered one unit, thereby calling for a singular verb. Quirk et al. (A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Longman, 1985) discusses this principle of notional concord in Sections 10.35-10.39.

If, however, the speaker considers the nouns of the subject to be separate entities, a plural verb could also be used, as in these examples from Quirk:

"Your fairness and impartiality have/has been much appreciated."

"Law and order has/ has been established."

So either the singular form of the verb or the plural form can be used; it depends on whether the speaker thinks of the subject as one unit or as more than one unit.

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