0

"My wife and I am" = one family, a singular number. Therefore satisfies the use of "am" for both number and proximity issues.

1
  • Is there a question here? Jul 9, 2017 at 20:16

2 Answers 2

4

My wife and I are/is ...

Generally, a subject with the form of a coordination of noun phrases linked by "and" takes a plural verb.

"My wife and I" is a coordination of two noun phrases ("my wife" + "I"). It denotes a set containing two members and hence requires the plural verb "are".

3
  • My wife and I here is a compound subject. Why did you leave |is| at the top? I'd stay away from sets.
    – Lambie
    Jul 9, 2017 at 15:08
  • 1
    I changed 'NP' into 'noun phrase' because most ELLs are not familiar with such an abbreviation. If you don't like it, please roll it back.
    – user178049
    Jul 9, 2017 at 15:28
  • @BenKovitz The head of the NP is "set" which is singular and hence takes a singular verb. And it's not even a coordination with "and"!
    – BillJ
    Jul 9, 2017 at 16:46
2

Plural subject

People don't normally perceive "my wife and I" as singular.

There are many situations where you can use a singular verb with a plural subject to make the listener think of the subject as singular. Here's an answer that gives a few illustrations of that. That doesn't work with "my wife and I", since even though those might be one whole family, the word and reinforces the perception that they are two people. In British English, even the singular noun "family" often takes a plural verb.

Proximity agreement

Regarding proximity agreement, where the verb only agrees with the part of the subject closest to the verb and disagrees with another part of the subject, that works with or, not with and.* The main reason why proximity agreement is needed is because part of the subject is singular and part is plural, so there is no way to make the verb agree with both parts:

Bob McClaskey is singing tonight.
The Three Irishmen are singing tonight.
Bob McClaskey or The Three Irishmen are singing tonight.
The Three Irishmen or Bob McClaskey is singing tonight.

So, if you're both singing:

I and my wife are singing tonight.

If only one of you will sing, and you haven't decided who yet:

I or my wife is singing tonight.

The verb form am suggests so strongly that the subject should exclusively be "I" that people tend to reword the sentence rather than use proximity agreement to cover a compound subject including someone other than "I". For example, if you reversed the order of "I" and "my wife" in the previous example, you would probably say:

My wife or I will be singing tonight.

to avoid the disorientation that results from "My wife or I am singing tonight." The verb form am clashes too strongly with "my wife" for proximity agreement to make up for it.


That's not a rule, of course. Here's a question about a sentence where proximity agreement does work with "and".

5
  • 1
    In informal situations, you can also say "me and my wife is singing tonight."
    – user178049
    Aug 9, 2017 at 22:47
  • @user178049 In informal situations, you can also say "Like, man, ză biss wih da attude wuh like oh man, y'know?" I think it's unwise to teach that to beginners, though. In standard, formal English, the verb agrees with the subject, and "I" denotes the speaker in this context. You should know that there's currently a fad on among linguists to equate regional, informal, and illiterate dialects with the central written tradition that defines the standard English that is common across regions, nations, and time. I recommend not going along with that fad.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Aug 10, 2017 at 0:58
  • 1
    You went too far. "Like, man.." isn't a good thing to teach. But the structure "Me and my friends.." is something that is mentioned in most reliable grammar books. (I'm not debating, btw. I even upvote this because I agree. I just think it's a good alternative to avoid the issue like "My wife or I am/is". )
    – user178049
    Aug 10, 2017 at 1:40
  • @user178049 No "debate", but here's why I think teaching that sort of thing to beginners is a bad idea: The most important thing to establish when learning something new is "landmarks": the mental things you orient by as you learn everything else. This is why getting clear and rock-solid on pronunciation when you first start learning a language is such a huge advantage. Sloppy pronunciation and grammar are understood in relation to the landmarks of clear, formal speech. It doesn't work the other way around. …
    – Ben Kovitz
    Aug 10, 2017 at 4:39
  • @user178049 …Have you ever had one of those bad teachers who insists on burying you in complexities and short-cuts right from day one? It's bad teaching because you're not ready for that until you've gotten the main landmarks burned into your brain. Then you can understand complexities, exceptions, cut corners, sloppiness, abuse of notation, etc. "Me and my friends…" is one of those sloppy elocutions. It's unacceptable in formal speech and writing. Teaching it as part of "English grammar" to beginners does them a disservice because it obscures the principal landmarks.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Aug 10, 2017 at 4:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .