From the book "Sapiens":

One reason German soldiers and civilians thought not all was lost was that they believed German scientists were about to turn the tide...

From the above sentence there were two 'was ' It is hard to find the subject of the first was . If all is the subject , all I think should need plural verb.

  • 2
    Yes, all is the subject, but no it does not require a plural verb, since it is singular in this meaning of everything. All were lost would mean all people were lost, but all is lost means everything is lost.
    – oerkelens
    Apr 1, 2017 at 16:07
  • 1
    @ oerkelens, You should post this as the answer
    – Chris M
    Apr 1, 2017 at 19:36

3 Answers 3


You are correct in saying that "all" is not the subject. You must treat the entire phrase "not all was lost" as a single unit. This phrase is an expression, and if the writer of the sentence thought you might not have been familiar with it, would have put it in quotation marks.

In the following sanitized quote,

One reason {person} thought "a thing they are thinking" was that...

The bolded "was" I have here is the actual verb of the noun. The 1st "was" you encounter in the actual quote is a part of the "a thing they are thinking" that I've marked above. It is a sub-phrase that must be parsed separately.

The entire italicized portion is a single noun phrase that is the subject of the sentence. It is singular because it is "one reason". The subject is one reason... but one reason what? It is one reason that German soldiers think something. What did they think? They thought "not all was lost".


To add to oerkelens's answer: "One reason" is the subject of the second "was". If you delete "German soldiers and civilians thought not all was lost", it explains the second "was". I'm reading Sapiens, too!


The second was is concerned with the "One reason of German soldiers and civilians". And the first one points to "all" in this case "all" is used as collective noun.

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