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The words "lovely" and "wonderful" are synonyms. So, should I say

The meanings of "lovely" and "wonderful" are pretty much the same

or

The meaning of "lovely" and "wonderful" is pretty much the same

A tutor uses the latter whereas the former seems more grammatically correct. I understand people can't care about the grammar too much while they are speaking. I'd just like to know if my understanding about that grammar is right.

  • Barring any additional context (considering only the standalone sentences), which of the following would you use? (1) The noses of John and Mary are very similar. (2) The nose of John and Mary is very similar. The same applies to the sentences in the question. – Jason Bassford May 26 at 23:17
  • @JasonBassford Definitely the latter. So, that tutor misspeaks, right? – PutBere May 26 at 23:21
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    Yes, I would say so. – Jason Bassford May 26 at 23:23
  • @Jason Bassford; your example is lovelier and more wonderful. – Ram Pillai May 27 at 13:00
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Under the formal rules of English grammar, a singular subject requires a singular verb.

Because of a programming error, the identity number of John and Mary is the same.

One identity number requires a singular verb.

Of course, the identity numbers of John and Mary are different.

Two identity numbers require a plural verb.

Thus,

The meaning of "lovely" and "wonderful" is the same

is grammatically correct.

And also correct grammatically is

The meanings of "lovely" and "wonderful" are very close to the same.

Also correct grammatically is

The meaning of "lovely" and "wonderful" is close to the same.

"Meaning" requires "is" under the rules of English grammar. Of course, the sentence, however grammatical, is nonsense. If the meanings are not the same, then it makes no sense to label them as a single meaning.

You can be nonsensical in perfect grammar, and logical in incorrect grammar. Do not confuse grammar and sense.

Probably what was in the tutor's mind was something like

In certain usages, the words have an identical meaning, but in others they do not.

When we have complex thoughts, sometimes the grammar gets tangled and sometimes the thought itself.

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  • I'm guessing the first one is correct because it is implied that the two words have one singular meaning even though there are two words? – Chipster May 27 at 0:52
  • The problem may be in the example because the fields of meaning of the two words do not broadly overlap so trying to figure out might have been intended is just guesswork. – Jeff Morrow May 27 at 1:16
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You could avoid the issue:

"Lovely" and "wonderful" mean pretty much the same thing.

But if the meanings aren't identical (and in this case, the meanings aren't even close), then there are two different meanings, so the plural should be used.

The reframing above also avoids the issue of each word having multiple meanings, if you say

"Lovely" and "wonderful" mean about the same in this context.

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  • I see no reason that the author of one answer should not acknowledge someone else's good answer even though (because) the answers take utterly different approaches. I upvoted yours yesterday but forgot to say so. – Jeff Morrow May 27 at 11:43

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