What any muscle or a group of muscles (do - does) is change energy to motion.

For the above sentence, what is the right verb? "Do" or "does"?

  • Which one do you think is right? Why?
    – Matt
    Jan 15 '14 at 18:17
  • My question is this. Does the noun phrase "muscle or a group of muscles" as a subject takes "does" (singular verb) or "do" plural verb?
    – asef
    Jan 15 '14 at 18:43
  • 2
    @asef I understand [[a muscle] or [a group of muscles]] and I understand [any [[muscle] or [group of muscles]]] but I don't understand [[any muscle] or [a group of muscles]].
    – user230
    Jan 15 '14 at 19:15

The construction A or B VERB can be problematic if A and B differ in number—if one is singular and the other plural. But in your case there is no problem: of muscles is a preposition phrase modifying group, and both of your subjects, muscle and group, are singular. Consequently, the verb is cast in the singular:

A muscle changes energy to motion.
A group of muscles changes energy to motion.
A muscle or a group [of muscles] changes energy to motion.

In conversation this is usually resolved by the verb agreeing in number with the closest subject:

I'm not sure whether just John or both the Smiths have title to this property.
I'm not sure whether both the Smiths or just John has title to this property.

In writing, it may be resolved by rewriting:

I'm not sure whether just John has title to this property, or both the Smiths.

  • I think OP has screwed up the construction before he even gets to the verb. After all, muscle and group of muscles are both just singular nouns - no different to, say, man and woman. No-one would ever say "What any man or a woman wants [is whatever the writer thinks they should want]". OP must either change any to a, or dump the a - either way, it then becomes clear only the singular verb form makes sense. Jan 27 '14 at 5:08

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