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Here are two future events to be announced in writing:

  1. A well-known poet, who is also a talented painter, is coming to the party.

  2. A well-known poet and a talented painter (different persons) are coming to the party.

At first, it seemed to me easy to announce both the events— just using the verb form accordingly to the one subject in the first announcement and the two subjects in the second:

  1. A well-known poet and (also) a talented painter is coming to the party.

  2. A well-known poet and a talented painter are coming to the party.

But something seems to be wrong with the first one since the grammar checker keeps marking "is" before "coming" as an error, suggesting to use "are" instead.

Is there really some sort of grammar flaw in the first announcement?

If there is, what will be the right way to announce the first event sticking, if possible, to the model of the second announcement?

  • That's not the spellchecker but a grammar checker. Turn it off. Maybe it wants you to say "will be attending the party". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 1 '16 at 19:18
  • @TRomano - Thank you, but "will be attending" won't clearly show how many persons I have in mind. The grammar correcting suggestion is "are" instead of "is". And of course, it doesn't mark a mistake with "will be attending", but that's not what I'm looking for. – Lamplighter Oct 1 '16 at 19:51
  • I'd delete the second a. – Lucian Sava Oct 1 '16 at 20:17
  • @LucianSava - Yes, without it, the grammar checker doesn't mark a mistake. But will there follow any explanation or a link to have it cleared up? – Lamplighter Oct 1 '16 at 20:27
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    @TRomano I'd argue the checker is correct. Having two articles implies that two different people are being discussed. The second a is both unnecessary and (when talking about a single person) incorrect. – Catija Oct 2 '16 at 12:40
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In this case, your grammar checker was wrong.

With all due respect, what are these "checkers" for?

Think about this from the point of view of the people programming the spelling and grammar checker. They come up with a list of rules. The machine applies them blindly -- and makes mistakes.

I ALWAYS use a spell checker. I rarely use a grammar checker. If I were less experienced with writing in English, I would use a grammar checker. These checkers can be somewhat useful as mechanical proofreaders.

I do not use them slavishly, however, because they make plenty of mistakes. And I still have to proofread my work, because sometimes I make a mistake that the checker missed (for example, I used the wrong homonym, such as reed vs. read).

You can enjoy a proud, holier-than-thou feeling each time you reject a grammar checker's correction.

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    No. The checker is correct. The use of articles in the sentence is wrong, so the checker believes the sentence is discussing two people. – Catija Oct 2 '16 at 12:21
  • @Catija - I see what you mean. I will convert my contribution to a series of comments on the side topic of those *$%(! dang-blasted grammar checkers. – J. Doe Oct 2 '16 at 19:10
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Grammar checkers are very limited in what they do. An older version of Microsoft Word used to drive me mad with its constant admonitions to replace which with that, so much so that I disabled the grammar checker. The latest version doesn't bother and is quite happy with "The house which Jack built", even with all options turned on. Why is this? It's because users complained about false negatives so much that Microsoft disabled the relevant rules. The only grammatical errors that Word picks me up on are repeated words, which is is very nice, thank you you very much.

I fed your four sentences to Word and it swallowed them without a murmur, which made me a little suspicious, so I started deleting words to see what would happen. It is perfectly happy with:

A well-known poet talented painter coming to party.

That should keep any tyro happy and may explain why we are getting so many requests to correct people's grammar. Microsoft Word just isn't up to the job. I shall write a test document to check the handling of each available grammar rule and see what I find.

As for your question, there doesn't seem to be much wrong with any of them except that I would change

A well-known poet and a talented painter is coming to the party.

to

A well-known poet and talented painter is coming to the party.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft Word is happy with that.

The real problem with grammar checkers is that the more rules they check, the more mistakes they make.

  • Thanks for the feedback, Mick. I've always believed that there's nothing on the net that you can't find the answer to. It's just the matter of composing the right request. On formulating the request as "noun-verb agreement with the combination of two or more nouns joined by ‘and’", I did find one, in the end, other than what you had suggested, and I posted it here as my own view on the grammar point in the question. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your answer, which to me, seems an entertaining if useful comment rather than the answer to what I was actually hoping to clear up. I'm upvoting, though. – Lamplighter Oct 2 '16 at 12:24
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I highly appreciate all the feedback I was given on this question, but this is one of the rare cases I have not got the answer to a question I've asked on this site. After a lot of searching, I had it answered and I feel like sharing with others what I could find, and here it goes:

The cardinal rule of subject-verb agreement says:

"A Verb must agree with its Subject in Number and Person."

This is also true when the subject is a combination of two or more nouns joined by "and".

However, there is an exception to this rule:

When the two singular nouns refer to the same person or thing, the verb must be singular.

In "A well-known poet and a talented painter are coming to the party" the subject is combined of two single units—"a well-known poet" and "a talented painter", so it agrees with a verb in the plural form, which is "are" here.

In " A well-known poet and a talented painter is* coming to the party" the use of the singular form of the verb "to be" seems to indicate that the subject, consisting of group nouns, should be considered as a single unit but…

The fine grammar point, which I was so persistent in the search for and have found in the long run, is this:

The articles (a/an/the) or any possessive adjective used only once before two singular nouns joined by ‘and’ indicates that the two singular nouns represent only one person or thing which is singular, and the verb of that singular subject must be singular.

The orator and statesman is dead.

My friend and partner has come.

BUT:

The orator and a statesman are dead.

My friend and my partner have come.

The source is here.

Is it important to know this? Judging by the feedback I got, it hardly is, critically. Is it worthwhile to be known at all? I think it may be.

  • The problem in your original sentence is that you use "a" twice. If it is only one person, you only use the article once. So your sentence (when talking about a single person) should read "A well-known poet and talented painter is coming..." – Catija Oct 2 '16 at 12:19
  • @Catija - Thank you very much. I have known that for sure by now. Seems like I should have waited an hour before posting my own answer. Is anything wrong with it for you to have summarized it? – Lamplighter Oct 2 '16 at 12:34
  • I didn't see the question until you answered it. Someone did mention removing the second "a" in the comments on the question. I'm not sure why no one posted it as an answer. Your answer is good. I might (personally) cut to the main point more quickly but that's just me. – Catija Oct 2 '16 at 12:38
  • @Rompey - Glad you were able to get clarity on this. Good write-up. – J. Doe Oct 2 '16 at 19:08
  • @J.Doe - Thanks for the encouraging words, and for the "holier-than-thou" which I've heard for the first time and put it down, and for the bit of edit you've made. – Lamplighter Oct 2 '16 at 19:29

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