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If I say

Martin and John consider it possible

I would think that "Martin and John" makes the verb "consider" plural, which is the same situation as

The guys consider it possible

or

They consider it possible

But I have heard that if I can take each out of the names out, it becomes singular, so that the correct way to write the first sentence would be

Martin and John considers it possible

because I am able to say "Martin considers it possible" and "John considers it possible".

Which one is correct?

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Although there are many questions here which deal with grammatical number and plural subjects, this is the first time I've heard of this "rule". It deserves its own answer.

You are entirely correct. A plural subject requires a plural verb, especially when each "element" of that subject might be considered an individual.

The only time where an apparently plural subject takes a singular verb is when that subject is considered a single entity in its own right:

Fish and chips is the best meal ever devised.

It's possible that whoever told you that erroneous rule has come across a sentence like that and simply come up with a reason which fits it (fish and chips may both be extracted and the sentence becomes singular).

But it makes no sense: if you remove Martin or John from your sentence, you are only talking about the remaining person. Any verb in that sentence must be singular. To extrapolate that and say that because each element is singular, both together can be is frankly ridiculous. Your intuition that it is ridiculous is correct. If a subject consists of more than identifiable and separable element which are not taken together as a composite entity, it must be plural.

  • Thank you! Just a follow-up question: What about Martin's and John's knowledge about the subject is very limited. Should I include 's on both of them and since Martin has his own knowledge and John has his own knowledge, should I use knowledge as plural or singular (i.e. is it correct to use is or are)? – Jamgreen Jan 21 '17 at 10:35
  • This should really be a separate question (with its own answers). Follow-up questions in comments are not useful on this site. – Mick Jan 21 '17 at 10:39
  • There's a question about that! Search for seafood collaboration dinner which should find it. Again, it depends on whether it's collective knowledge (which it could be) or each individual's knowledge. – Andrew Leach Jan 21 '17 at 10:39
  • @Jamgreen In "Martin and John's knowledge about the subject", the genitive marking is only required on the second noun, "John's", since it's clear that the knowledge is possessed by both "Martin" and "John". Singular "knowledge" is head of the NP, and hence a singular verb is required. – BillJ Jan 21 '17 at 11:27
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That reasoning is strange indeed. It's a grammatical twist on the fallacy of composition:

if I can take each out of the names out, it becomes singular, so that the correct way to write the first sentence would be

Martin and John considers it possible

because I am able to say "Martin considers it possible" and "John considers it possible".

Certainly if you replace a plural subject ("Martin and John") with a singular subject ("Martin" or "John") then you are not merely able, but required to change the verb form to agree with the new subject. Verbs in English agree with their subjects in number and person.

It doesn't follow that the singular subject is therefore the appropriate one. That's like saying:

if I replace the first person with the third person, I'm able to say "She considers it possible". Therefore, I should say "I considers it possible".

It's not possible.

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