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Which of these requires a plural verb?

Ross at Play

Which of these sentences would you use 'is', and which 'are'? Can you explain why?
(a) The spelling of homophones is/are difficult.
(b) The spelling of homophones is/are different.
(c) The spelling of 'their' and 'there' is/are difficult.
(d) The spelling of 'their' and 'there' is/are different.

aubie56

@Ross at Play

"Spelling" is the subject of all four examples, thus it requires the singular verb.

richardshagrin

@Ross at Play

Sounds better as "is" to me. Homophones and telephones both take is. I realize there are lots of both telephones and homophones but as a concept the word works as singular when I try to verbalize the sentence. The subject that takes the verb is spelling. You can rearrange (c) and (d) to say "the spelling of John and Mary is difficult/different, or substitute any nouns that may or may not end in s, IS works for me, because I hear "spelling" as the subject.

Replies:   Jim S
richardshagrin

@aubie56

Beat me posting by a whole second!

Crumbly Writer

@aubie56

"Spelling" is the subject of all four examples, thus it requires the singular verb.

In order to use "are" you need to change each use of "spelling" to "spellings". Then you'd have:
(a) The spellings of homophones are difficult.
(b) The spellings of homophones are different.
...

The singular noun requires a singular verb. A plural verb requires a plural verb. That's what makes the sentences tense!

robberhands

Thank you aubie! Was that a trick question to confuse poor non native English speakers?

Jim S
Updated:

@richardshagrin


Homophones and telephones both take is.


They do? hmmmm

The telephones, all 50 of them, is ringing off the hook.

hmmmm

Gotta disagree with you there, richard. I can't think of any exception where a plural subject takes a singular verb. Maybe there is one, but telephones or homophones are not examples if so. My 4th grade teacher would have had a hairy fit if I tried to get away with that one.

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

(a) You're considering homophones collectively, so 'is'
(b) You're considering homophones individually, so 'are'
(c) You're considering 'their' and 'there' as a pair, so 'is'
(d) Assuming the most likely of several possible contexts, you're considering 'their' and 'there' individually, so 'are'

I think the spelling/spellings issue is a red herring because the plural is hardly ever used, the singular being interpreted as a mass noun.

Is this a variant of my livestock/chickens question ;)

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

Is this a variant of my livestock/chickens question ;)

I honestly don't know, but I think you have found the correct first question to ask: is 'spelling' countable or not?

This is what I was drafting at the time you made your post.

I posted a very similar sentence a couple of hours ago on another thread. My original version was:

The spelling of 'but and but is different.

I read it after posting and thought, "I had better check that."
I checked my dictionary, then one entry in CMOS, concluded 'is' was correct, then went to the mall for a coffee.
When I returned I changed my post from 'is' to 'are'. It was a traumatic cup of coffee, I can tell you.

I have a lot of questions!
My first one is whether 'spelling' is countable or uncountable.
The definition of 'spelling' in the Ox. Dict. is this:

spelling noun
1 [uncountable] the act of forming words correctly from individual letters; the ability to do this
- a spelling mistake
- the differences between British and American spelling
- My spelling is terrible.

2 [countable] the way that a particular word is written
- a list of difficult spellings
- In American spelling 'travelled' only has one 'l'.
- The document uses the British spelling for caesium.

It seems to me that meaning 1 applies (it is uncountable) when the final adjective is 'difficult', but meaning 2 (it is countable) when it is 'different'.

Crumbly Writer

Is this a variant of my livestock/chickens question ;)

I honestly don't know, but I think you have found the correct first question to ask: is 'spelling' countable or not?

I think the bigger question is(are?): do chickens count their spellings, or are livestock simply poor spellers? 'D

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

I have deleted this post.
I accidentally did of an edit and totally overwrote whatever was here, thinking I was adding onto the end of the thread.
I have no idea what that was.
I have shifted what I put here by accident down where it belonged.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

I think the bigger question is(are?): do chickens count their spellings, or are livestock simply poor spellers? 'D

At this point I am anticipating I will want to quote and discuss at least four entries from CMOS before I'm ready to declare this thread has run its course - and it's time for the stupid puns to begin. :(

But please, if anyone wants to make posts quoting any other source I would be very grateful.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

But please, if anyone wants to make posts quoting any other source I would be very grateful.

Nope. I think you nailed the chicken on the head with this one. You're initial posts were wrong, because you were confusing plural nouns with singular verbs. You weren't discussing plural (mass) nouns at all. Once you corrected that initial flaw, there isn't any remaining question.

As for puns, I flatly reject the assumption that puns only pop up once a thread has 'died'. For me, I can either rant, or pun. The puns help defuse the tension I feel, and help defray the anger being expressed on the thread. Face it, would you rather listen to me rant about the same point over and over, or would you rather chuckle over something mildly entertaining, at best.

The problem is, while the puns are there all along, once the thread has run it's course, there's nothing left BUT the puns, so everyone jumps to the conclusion that it was the PUNS which killed the thread, but actually they were always there, but there's no longer enough content to counter them.

A perfect solution is: once no one is participating in a thread anyone, everyone should take all their puns to another active thread and sprinkle them there, where no one will know what they're referring to! 'D

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

You're initial posts were wrong, because you were confusing plural nouns with singular verbs. You weren't discussing plural (mass) nouns at all. Once you corrected that initial flaw, there isn't any remaining question.

I think we've done the easy bit - when the subject is countable, prefer 'spellings' and 'are'.
I think 'spelling' probably should be preferred when the subject is countable - but I'm a long way from convinced 'is' is correct for both (a) and (c).

My comment about no puns was kind of an echo of sentiments expressed here recently. I am not so delusion to expect anyone to NOT totally ignore it. :-)

awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

Nope. I think you nailed the chicken on the head with this one.


So it's a no pun and shut case ;)

AJ

Ross at Play

SO, ATTEMPTING TO MOVE ON ...

Assuming 'spelling' is uncountable when the adjective is 'difficult'.
Doesn't that mean both (a) and (c) need to use 'spelling', not 'spellings'?

Which (tentatively) gives us:
(a) The spelling of homophones is difficult.
(c) The spelling of 'their' and 'there' is difficult.

BUT ... aren't uncountable nouns sometimes treated as either singular or plural, depending on whether the action was collective or individual.
Writing that reminded me of the answer. Yes, "mass nouns" are always singular, but collective nouns may be treated as either. :-)
So, are these examples mass uncountable nouns or collective uncountable nouns?
I'm not sure, but (c) definitely feels like two individual actions, suggesting the noun be treated as plural.
OTOH, (a) definitely feels like a mass action, suggesting it should be singular.

That would make the four sentences required:
(a) The spelling of homophones is difficult.
(b) The spellings of homophones are different.
(c) The spelling of 'their' and 'there' are difficult.
(d) The spellings of 'their' and 'there' are different.

BUT ... reading those the one that sounds off to me is (c), which sounds like it needs 'is'. Going back to AJ's first post, when he suggested the order of the verbs should be is, are, is, are, his reason was the two words would be treated as a pair that is difficult to spell. That sounds fair enough to me.

That would make the four sentences required:
(a) The spelling of homophones is difficult.
(b) The spellings of homophones are different.
(c) The spelling of 'their' and 'there' is difficult.
(d) The spellings of 'their' and 'there' are different.

Does anyone have any problems with those?

AJ, thanks for the help and I'll give you a B grade. You got the verbs right, but missed (b) and (d) were countable nouns and needed 'spellings'.
The rest of you were no help at all, and everyone who made a guess, plus me, failed miserably.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

AJ, thanks for the help and I'll give you a B grade. You got the verbs right, but missed (b) and (d) were countable nouns and needed 'spellings'.


No, my claim about 'spelling' was completely fatuous. I reckon I deserve about half marks - a C. Or perhaps a C+ for the pun ;)

AJ

Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

The thing I learned was it may be unclear what action some uncountable nouns are doing, but don't be bothered by that, treat them as singular unless you can clearly see individual actions.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

No, my claim about 'spelling' was completely fatuous. I reckon I deserve about half marks - a C. Or perhaps a C+ for the pun ;)

In the case of my chicken pun, it deserves at least some chicken C'd. (Hungry chickens tend to get cranky, and peck at any moving item, whereas well-fed chickens are sated and happy, not complaining about every minor detail!)

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

The thing I learned was it may be unclear what action some uncountable nouns are doing, but don't be bothered by that, treat them as singular unless you can clearly see individual actions.

Bingo! (Which is why my chickens are so happy, cause they use the Chicken Cs to play the game.)

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Bingo! (Which is why my chickens are so happy, cause they use the Chicken Cs to play the game.)

What on earth are you blathering on about?
What in hell's name is Chicken C?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

What on earth are you blathering on about?
What in hell's name is Chicken C?

It's a combination of the puns popping up in this thread.

First reference:

Is this a variant of my livestock/chickens question ;)

I honestly don't know, but I think you have found the correct first question to ask: is 'spelling' countable or not?

I think the bigger question is(are?): do chickens count their spellings, or are livestock simply poor spellers?

Second Reference:

Nope. I think you nailed the chicken on the head with this one.


Third reference:

No, my claim about 'spelling' was completely fatuous. I reckon I deserve about half marks - a C. Or perhaps a C+ for the pun ;)


Forth reference:


No, my claim about 'spelling' was completely fatuous. I reckon I deserve about half marks - a C. Or perhaps a C+ for the pun ;)

In the case of my chicken pun, it deserves at least some chicken C'd. (Hungry chickens tend to get cranky, and peck at any moving item, whereas well-fed chickens are sated and happy, not complaining about every minor detail!)

You made such a big to-do about my punning so early in the thread, that I've been building pun upon pun, but you've been ignoring them all along. So I understand you're not comprehending what I'm saying.

Just keep ignoring them, otherwise you'll worth yourself into a chicken broth!

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Just keep ignoring them, otherwise you'll worth yourself into a chicken broth!

Sorry. I could have left you alone with this one.
Apparently, there's a lot I do not know about chickens, nor care to.

awnlee jawking

I'm wondering why the question was posed in the first place. Were we doing someone's homework for them?

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

Were we doing someone's homework for them?

No, not my homework.

I wrote a seemingly simple sentence in a post and could not figure out whether a singular or plural verb was needed.
There was something about about the choice of an adjective, different instead of difficult, that was "forcing" the choice of a plural verb. But that can't be right!? Adjectives don't have number; it's subject and verb that must agree in number.
The thing I eventually figured out was that if you change an adjective (and presumably adverbs too) in a sentence you may change the 'sense' of the noun you are using. In this case it changed from a sense that was countable to one which was uncountable, which then forced the choice of singular instead of plural forms for the sentence.

So, my ear figured out the right thing to do easily enough, but the bits in between had a really hard time coping with it. :-)

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