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I was solving some general questions about plural and singular. Then I came across a specific type of questions that have a hard time understanding.

Peter and Danny (is/are) going on a walk. --> here we use 'are' because the subject of the sentence is "Peter AND Danny"

Peter, along with 100 other village people, walks. --> here, we use "walk's'" because the subject of the sentence is Peter(singluar).

But the problem here is, why is the subject of the first sentence plural, while the subject of the second sentence is singular? Both of the sentences seem to talk about more than one person doing the action (walking), and yet, the subject of the first sentence is pleura, and the subject of the second sentence is singular...

Is it because of the difference between 'and' and 'along with'? If so, what happens if I use 'with', 'or', 'combined with', and so on? In what situation, does the thing become singular or plural?

I know that 'each, every, any, group of people' these types of words and phrases are singular. But if there are other nouns or phrases that I may be confused (like the one written above), it would be very nice if you could mention or talk about such additional things, as it would help me learn more about subject verb agreement. Thank you!

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Lets start with an extremely simple sentence:

Peter walks.

The sentence has a subject and a predicate.  The predicate has (in this case, it simply is) a verb.  The verb and its subject agree -- "Peter" is a singular subject.

 

But, what if the predicate contained more than just the verb?

Peter walks along with a hundred other villagers.

Not much has changed.  "Peter" is still singular.  "Walks" with an -s is still the the form that agrees.  We've added an involved prepositional phrase that modifies, well, something, surely.  Whatever it modifies, it doesn't modify the grammatical number of the subject or the verb.

Word placement in English is fairly flexible.  We can also examine these sentences:

Peter, along with a hundred other villagers, walks.
Along with a hundred other villagers, Peter walks.

 

Now for something completely different.

Peter and Dave walk.

Although "Peter" is singular and "Dave" is singular, "Peter and Dave" is plural.  The "and Dave" can change the grammatical number of the subject, and "walk" without the -s agrees.

We shouldn't be too surprised.  "And" isn't a preposition.  It's a coordinating conjunction.  That conjunctions don't behave like prepositions ought to be obvious to anyone who considers the following sentence to be broken and nonsensical:

Peter walk, and Dave.

 

I do not mean to imply that every coordinating conjunction creates a plural.  I don't even mean to imply that "and" always creates a plural.  For example, "Macaroni and cheese are two of my favorite ingredients" but "Macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite meals".

I only mean to state, clearly and plainly, that a coordinating conjunction creates a different kind of grammatical relationship than a preposition can.  When you are looking for the grammatical number of a subject, you can safely ignore prepositional phrases.

 

One last note.

Peter walks with a hundred villagers.
Peter walks with a hundred bicycle-riding villagers.

If you think that the grammar of the first sentence tells you that the hundred villagers are walking, please think again.  The second sentence would make little sense if the verb "walks" had to be applied to them.

  • Thank you for your answers. I think I understand most of it, but still have some questions; you speak of "grammatical number of a subject" but what exactly does that mean? Does that mean that the subject in "Peter along, along with 100 villagers, walks." is "Peter and the 100 villagers" but the "grammatical number of the subject" is 1? Or does it mean that the subject is Peter, even if 100 people are still doing the action? – Danny Han Jul 26 '17 at 9:11
  • Also, at end of your post, you have said something about: Peter walks with a hundred villagers. Peter walks with a hundred bicycle-riding villagers. I don`t get the meaning of either of them(well, at least not clearly) could you explain to me what those two questions mean? – Danny Han Jul 26 '17 at 9:14
  • In English (and many other languages) there are exactly two grammatical numbers: singular and plural. That's different than, say, the infinite range of mathmatical numbers. Consider the phrase "a pair". The mathmatical number of "a pair" is two, but the grammatial number is singular -- something we usually consider to be just one. In my Midwestern American dialect, we say "there is a pair here" rather than "there are a pair here". – Gary Botnovcan Jul 26 '17 at 14:27
  • Given "Peter is walking with his friends", we can easily assume or infer that the friends are walking -- but we don't know for sure. The grammar of the sentence only tells us what singular Peter is doing. The verb is not attached to the plural friends. They could be walking, but they could be jogging, riding bikes, sitting on a parade float, or practically anything else. We only know that Peter is walking and that his friends are with him. – Gary Botnovcan Jul 26 '17 at 14:28
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Peter, along with 100 other village people, walks to X.

The "along with 100 other village people" looks like an appositive prepositional phrase. It can be argued that one of the attributes of appositive phrases is that they provide additional information, but don't change the essential meaning of the sentence. So for something like Subject-Appositive-Verb-Object, Subject and Verb should agree as though the appositive weren't there, since the appositive can be omitted.

The fact that commas set off the phrase kind of make the difference here. Without the commas it can look like the entire subject is meant to be "Peter along with X did Y" rather than "Peter (BTW here's some info) did Y" and therefore plural would be appropriate.

  • No. It's certainly a parenthetical, and certainly one of the usages of parenthetical phrases is to provide additional information, but it's better not analysed as an appositive. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 11 '17 at 14:09

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