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« What's New in AP Stylebook 2014 | Main | Test Yourself: Subject-Verb Agreement »

June 10, 2014

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Diane

currently reads:
store is the

should read:
store are the

Kevin S

I'm guessing "swatches of paints" to be "swatches of paint".

To me "store is" looks correct, "What I like...is".

Barbie

THAT is in the wrong spot...Should read as What I like about the paint department in our hardware store is that the swatches of paints go well together.

Diane

Kevin, I think you're right.

Jeannette Paladino

How about "....are the swatches of paint strips."

Stephanie G

I agree with Jeanette and with Diane's first post: the subject and verb don't agree in the first sentence. The subject of the sentence is the word "swatches." If you put the sentence into a more conventional subject-first arrangement and remove some modifying phrases, the error is easy to see/hear:

The swatches of paints is what I like about the hardware store.

Clearly, "is" should be changed to "are." (In Kevin's post, he says "What I like...is" sounds correct, but that's only true if the subject following is singular. "What I like is the sound of the ocean" would be correct. "What I like is cookies" would not be correct.)

When I read the newsletter earlier I missed the compliment/complement error initially and chose this as the obvious error. I knew that you would address it here when you noticed it, Lynne, and you didn't disappoint! I love your blog and the way you turn your own occasional mistakes into examples for readers to learn from. You have the heart of a teacher!

Bob

swatches of paints* - *should be swatches of paint - (singular - and not a double plural)?

Bob VL

Stephanie G

For the record, I would have simply said "paint swatches" but I don't think "swatches of paints" is incorrect, just a little clunkier.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Thanks, everyone, for your excellent answers.

Diane, you win the prize for accuracy and speed. Thanks for weighing in so fast.

Kevin, Diane is correct. "Swatches of paints" is acceptable.

Barbie, that's an interesting revision.

Jeannette, you and Diane are correct.

Stephanie, thank you for your thoughtful feedback! I am glad my occasional errors are helpful.

Bob, "swatches of paints" is acceptable. Thanks for commenting.

I'd like to write more, but my plane is boarding.

Lynn

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Stephanie, I agree. Your revision flows better.

Thank you!

Lynn

Matt Lashley

I enjoy these types of "teachable moment" posts where the answer isn't given right away. They never fail to teach me something new.

Replacing "store is" with "store are" sounded correct to my ear. However, since my ear sometimes plays tricks on me, I researched the use cases for "like ... is" and "like ... are" and what I found surprised me.

According to one person who qualified his statement with "Fowler, admittedly in an edition eighty years old, but still an accepted authority, says ..." wrote:

"What, as subject, takes the singular verb whether the complementary noun be single or plural: thus, 'What I like is sprouts'; not 'What I like are sprouts'."

So our example would be: What I like is swatches.

Another person replied:

"What is different, I think, is that most Americans use the word "what" very similarly to "who" in that they derive their number from their antecedents dynamically.

I don't say this to question Fowler's authority, I just observe that American colloquial usage doesn't follow it, for what that's worth."

When faced a complex construction like our example, another site recommended adding a verb to clarify what is liked:

"What I like about the paint department in our hardware store is viewing the swatches of paints that go well together."

Given these bits of info, I'm not sure if there was an error or not.

Here's the link to the forum thread from which the quotes were pulled: http://forum.thefreedictionary.com/postst32588_Subject-verb-agreement-with-the-pronoun---what-.aspx

Olivia MacDonald

I mostly agree with Matt but would add this thought: The subject is the whole phrase, "What I like . . . hardware store," which as an entity takes a singular verb. Stephanie's example actually makes this case: "What I like is cookies" is correct. "What I like are cookies" just sounds too strange. So, in the case of conflicting subject vs. complement, match the verb to the subject. And if the subject is a phrase or clause, treat it as singular.

And I'd keep "paints" in the plural because it is the paints -- phrasing that nicely emphasizes the different colors -- that go well together, not the swatches. The phrase "that go well together" modifies "paints," not "swatches."

So I think your paragraph was correct as you wrote it!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Thanks for your detailed comments, Matt and Olivia. I am traveling and away from my "Fowler." But when I am back in my office, I will comment further.

My mistake--or possible mistake--has made for some interesting discussion!

Lynn

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Matt, I have reviewed "Fowler's Modern English Usage," which was reissued in 2004. In the thread you provided, I believe the people commenting were citing "Fowler's" incorrectly. That is, I think the editor of "Fowler's" was saying something different from what people inferred.

The editor says this is correct: "What is required are houses at rents that the people can pay." Notice the "what is" and "are houses." "What" gets a singular verb, but the plural word, "houses," gets a plural.

The editor, R.W. Burchfield, points out that all Mr. Fowler's examples follow the "What is said are words" pattern--not the "What is said is words" pattern.

"Fowler's" is challenging to wade through, and my wading may have led me in the wrong direction. However, my understanding is that Fowler would have said "What I like are paint swatches."

From now on, I'm going to stay away from that "what" construction. As people commented above, it's wordy and cumbersome. And it got me into trouble!

Lynn

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