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The last thing your strands need IS/ARE chemical preservatives, sulfates, or perfumes stripping them of any moisture that’s still left.

In the above sentence, is it grammatically correct to use "is" or "are"?

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2 Answers 2

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I am a native American English speaker. The word should be is, and the rest of the sentence is correct. There is nothing wrong with it.

You use is because the subject is thing. You use them because it refers to the plural word strands. There is no ambiguity in this sentence.

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  • No need to give your credentials in an answer. Let the content stand on its own, and the votes will decide its quality
    – gotube
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 22:15
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It is a badly written sentence. “Them” floats off in the air unattached to anything.

According to the strict rules of English grammar, the subject precedes the verb in indicative sentences. As the comments correctly point out, the subject is “thing,” which is singular, and so requires “is” rather than “are.”

Nevertheless, you will frequently see or hear “are” in this kind of verbose sentence. The primary reason, I believe, is that the correct plural “strands need” immediately preceding the main verb gets the mind thinking in a plural mode. The way to avoid many errors in agreement between main subject and main verb is to avoid unnecessary verbosity.

Here is a possible rewrite that is less verbose and therefore less likely to lead to error.

Preservatives and perfumes strip the moisture from your strands, which is not what you want at all.

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  • "Them" is a pronoun for "strands" and the direct object of "strip". What do you mean "floats off...unattached"?
    – gotube
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 19:34
  • @gotube In between “strands” and “them” are three other plural nouns. By the rules of English grammar, “them” can refer to any of those nouns. Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 22:44
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    It is clear from context that it refers to strands (of hair). Items cannot strip themselves of anything; therefore, preservatives, sulfates, and perfumes cannot strip themselves of moisture.
    – tuxedobob
    Commented Jun 13, 2021 at 1:47
  • @JeffMorrow The other three plural nouns are the subject of the gerund "striping". "Them" is the object of "stripping", so can't refer to those nouns, only to "strands"
    – gotube
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 20:42
  • @gotube You missed my point entirely. Doubtless the intended referent is “strands.” Having to parse that complexity is due to the verbose structure of the sentence, a verbosity that contributes to the likelihood of losing track of the number of the subject “thing.” Badly written does not necessarily mean ungrammatical, but badly written contributes to non-grammatical. If you look at my suggested rewrite, you will see that “strands” is the object of “strip.” When people are confused, it is helpful to point out that the confusion derives from how the language is used, not the language itself. Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 22:10

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