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I came across the following two sentences in a reputable daily:

  1. The combined land and ocean temperature for the first six months of 2010 are 57.5 degrees Fahrenheit (14.2 degrees Celsius), which is 1.2F (0.68C) above the 20th century average for the January to June period.

  2. In June the combined land and ocean temperature was 61.1F (16.2C), which is 1.2F (0.68C) above the 20th century average of 59.9F (15.5C).

Although the subjects in both the sentences are the same, different verbs are used - in the first sentence, the plural verb 'are' is used whereas in the second sentence, the singular verb 'was' is used.

Which verb is appropriate? Can anyone shed some light on it?

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    #2 is right, #1 is wrong. Temperature is singular. Nothing more complicated than that.
    – cruthers
    Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 17:07
  • At birth, Jill weighed 4lb and her twin Jill 5lb. Their combined weight ??? are 9lb? // ??? 4 plus 5 are 9? Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 15:43

3 Answers 3

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The first sentence is incorrect. "Temperature" is singular so a singular form of the verb is necessary.

If it's in the past, use "was". The first sentence should use "was".

If it's in the present, use "is".

In reference to a prediction in the future: "The combined temperature is expected to be XYZ degrees Celsius".

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Because the land and ocean temperatures are combined, they are a singular number. Just like with groups of things:

The council has decided.

instead of

The council have decided.

because though the council has more than one person, the council composed of those people is singular.

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Its the same verb, they are different forms of the verb 'to be'.

'are' is the plural present

'was' is the singular past.

The verb 'to be' is well-known to be highly irregular and hence your confusion is not surprising.

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