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Though inclined toward the plural, I want to confirm whether the auxiliary verb here should be plural.

The best part of the movie is/are the quirks -from smart flashbacks to character twists at the witty set-pieces.

What does that verb refer to? '....the best part...' (and so singular) or '....the quirks...' (and so plural)?

Is is incorrect? How?

  • The subject "the best part of the movie" has singular "part" as head, so the verb must be singular "is". Mismatches in grammatical number between predicative and predicand are quite common with specifying be. For example, in "The only thing we need now is some new curtains", the head of the subject is the singular "thing", while the head of the predicative is the plural "curtains". – BillJ Nov 14 '17 at 8:56
  • @BillJ in your last sentence, thing is taken care by is. The only thing we need is some new curtains. So, I may not buy that sentence! – Maulik V Nov 15 '17 at 4:55
  • You're not grasping the point I was making. which is that a singular predicand like "thing" can have a plural predicative like "curtains", and a singular verb "is". See what I mean? – BillJ Nov 15 '17 at 7:49
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What does that verb refer to?

Unless you are asking a question, the subject, or what the verb "refers" to you, is always in front of the verb.

The best part of the movie is the quirks.

The best part of the movie is the subject of is.

What comes after the verb (complements, objects) doesn't affect the form of the verb you use.

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Happy is the man who finds wisdom. 

Sometimes there is only one possible subject, which makes that subject easier to find.  As should be obvious from this example, the subject is not always in front of the verb. 

The subject of the copula is the thing that possesses some state.  The complement of the subject is the thing that represents that state.  In the biblical example above, the adjective "happy" represents an emotional state.  It must be the complement, leaving "the man who finds wisdom" as the subject who possesses some happiness. 

 

The best part of the movie are the quirks. 

In this case, both the subject and the complement are noun phrases.  Grammatically, either phrase could play either role.  We need to look at the semantics.  Which one of these referents can more sensibly possess the other as a state? 

To my eye it seems more likely that the "quirks" possess a state and that "the best part" represents or characterizes that state. 

The other arrangement is possible.  We could discuss several parts of the movie.  We might decide that the best part is the quirks, the worst part is the frequent bits of wooden dialogue, and one mediocre part is a long stretch of silent cinematography.  In a context like this, "the best part of the movie" is a more sensible subject. 

 

This sentence offers another way to be sure that subject and verb agree: let the subject and its complement both share grammatical number. 

The best parts of the movie are the quirks. 

Here, the verb agrees with both noun phrases. 

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As a native speaker, 'are' sounds more natural to me. However, I'm sure the majority of people in the UK would find both versions perfectly acceptable.

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