Studying and living in a foreign country is/are challenging for the students.

Is or Are?

  • in "a" foreign country
    – user3169
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 16:45
  • @snailplane, user3169: I've edited in the missing article, since it's a pointless distraction from the specific point being queried. Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 21:27
  • @user3169, the prepositional phrase here is a modifier and doesn't change the number of the subject (for example, you could substitute "here" for it). This is an error commonly made by native speakers, too. Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 22:53
  • @FumbleFingers: If it was just a typo. I agree. But it also could be the OP's error leaving out the article. Unless edits are checked it wouldn't get noticed.
    – user3169
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 1:48
  • @user3169: I don't see what difference it makes whether that particular error was down to carelessness or ignorance. It's obviously not the focus of the question, and ELU isn't a general-purpose proofreading service. OP would be aware of the edit even if I hadn't posted a comment, so if he didn't previously realise an article was required, he should know this if and when he reviews the responses here. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 13:24

2 Answers 2


In OP's case, most native speakers would opt for the singular verb form, because the two gerund nouns studying and living are probably effectively being thought of as two aspects of one complete lifestyle.

Careful washing and drying is more likely to be referenced using a singular than a plural verb form.

Also note that when two gerunds are "conflated" in this way, we tend to specify the more "important" one first, so living and studying is more common than studying and living (it's difficult to imagine how you could study abroad without actually living abroad).

This isn't to say the plural verb form would be "incorrect" in OP's context - it's just not so likely.


Usage note -

Where items in a list are separated by "and", the following verb needs to be in plural form. Where items in a list are separated by "or", the following verb needs to be singular.

Example -

1. A sandwich and a cup of coffee are included in the price.

2. A sandwich or a cup of coffee is included in the price.

Well, this is the most basic rules, yet you will find violation of this rule at some cases, yet they are equally correct. Let's discuss these scenario.

Examples -

1. Two and two makes four (correct)

2. Two and two make four (correct)

Considering the rules, you might be thinking in the above example only plural form ("make") will be the right choice and hence, only sentence no. 2 is correct. But the fact is both are correct. It depends on something else.

Note -

It's no secret that when the subject is singular, the verb is also singular. And similarly, when the subject is plural, the verb is also plural. The example sentences above have some ellipsis.

Example -

1. (The numbers that is) two and two make four. (The ellipsis subject "The numbers" is plural, and hence plural verb "make")

2. (Adding the numbers that is) two and two makes four. (The ellipsis subject "Adding the numbers" is singular, and hence singular verb "makes")

Another examples -

1. The writer and musician has arrived.

2. The writer and the musician have arrived.

Consider the two sentences above carefully. Here the first sentence refers to a single person who is both a writer and musician, while the second refers to two different persons, one a writer and the other a musician. The verb is set accordingly.

More note -

In the simplest cases, a coordinated subject such as "John and I" or "brother and sister" takes a plural verb, which makes them joint operators of the action:

Example -

John and I have managed the refurbishment.

But when the coordinates are uneven in length, or when the second coordinate is a singular noun, a singular verb may seem appropriate.

See for example:

  1. JK’s article and the negative reaction to it was on her mind.

  2. Bird songs and the sound of the waterfall makes it a magical place.

When each of a number of singular noun subjects is considered separately, the verb is in the singular.

For example -

1. A fever, a mutilation, a cruel disappointment, a loss of wealth, a loss of friends, seems at the moment untold loss

2. Every legislator, every doctor, and every citizen needs to recognize.

3. The power of the algorithm, and the phonological approach to spelling, is strengthened when the error list is examined

Your sentence -

Studying and living in a foreign country are challenging for the students. (When you take "studying" and "living" as two separate subjects)

Studying and living in a foreign country is challenging for the students. (When you take an ellipsis subject "The fact" like this (The fact that is) studying and living in a foreign country is challenging for the student.)

  • 2
    -1: This is just plain wrong. It's true that at the most basic level, noun phrases of the general form A and B are "normally" treated as singular. But OP's specific example is not the normal case - it's one where the combination A+B is very likely to be thought of as a single. As per Loudon Wainwright's immortal lyrics: "Water and bread was all he was fed. But not once did a tear stain his face." Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 22:04
  • @FumbleFingers Thank you for pointing that out. I will modify my answer. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 1:47
  • Are you quoting what said from somebody else? If it is so, could you give a link to the source? If you are not quoting what said somewhere else, you should not use quote markup.
    – apaderno
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 19:12
  • Last few examples and notes are from my grammar books. And one example I got from other forum, can't tell you now, as I have already lost that page. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 19:26

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