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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reader Question: Subject-Verb Agreement

Here is the question:

I recently came upon this sentence and, though I couldn't figure out why, it rubbed me wrong.

"Profound sadness, grief, and anger are normal reactions to an abnormal event."

My question is, should events be plural (because reactions are plural)? If it was just one emotion, it should read Grief is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. But it is a group of emotions, therefore plural. To me, the subject-verb don't seem to be in agreement.

The short answer is that this sentence is fine. The subject is the plural "Profound sadness, grief, and anger" and the verb is the plural "are." Don't be fooled by other elements in the sentence. You can have one or more reactions to a single event, so this is just peachy.

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