myQBook English Grammar Concepts

Common Mistakes: Are "Neither", "Nor" and Other Correlative Conjunctions Singular or Plural? (subject-verb agreement)

Sometimes, there is confusion on subject-verb agreement with correlative conjunctions. Let's look at the example sentence from above again:

Not only the human caretaker but also the monkey was rescued from the collapsed monkey exhibit.

There are two nouns that the correlative conjunction is pointing to; why not use the plural verb “were” instead of the singular verb “was”? The answer is simple: only the noun closest to the verb counts. The rule to follow here is: if the noun closest to the verb is singular, use the singular verb; if it is plural, use the plural verb. In this case, the noun closest to the verb is “monkey”, which is singular. Therefore, the verb is singular.

This rule stands for all the correlative conjunction pairs except one: “both-and”. Since this pair’s job is to specify that multiple things are involved, the plural verb is always used. Consider the slight variation of the above example sentence:

Both the human caretaker and the monkey were rescued from the collapsed monkey exhibit.

Here, the correlative conjunction pair “both-and” is used, so the verb, “were”, is plural.


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Correlative Conjunctions
Common Mistakes: Neither, Nor and other correlative conjunctions: Singular or Plural? (pronoun-antecedent agreement)

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