Looking at the TV was/were John and Jane.

Should "to be" be conjugated in the singular or plural form? My first thought was that it should agree with Looking at the TV; after all it comes first in the sentence and it makes sense to think that it should be the subject. But then what about John and Jane? It seems like THEY should be the subject since they were the grammatical agent of the action?

Would someone please clear this up for me as to what is the subject and what is the predicate? Any and all help is appreciated!

  • 1
    Ae John and Jane one person, or more than one? That's all you need to ask yourself. Mar 10, 2022 at 15:41
  • John and Jane are the ones that were looking, they were the one's doing the verb so it should agree with them.
    – Eli Harold
    Mar 10, 2022 at 16:10

2 Answers 2


That inversion is bit unusual to be honest. Looks like an example of anastrophe.

John and Jane are are still the subject (which is plural), and the "the TV" is still the object, and "were looking at" is still the verb. It's only the word order that has been changed, i.e. from the usual "John and Jane were looking at the TV".

  • 1
    Yes, but "the TV" is not the object of "looking". "At the TV" is a preposition phrase functioning as complement of "looking", and within the PP "the TV" is object of the preposition "at".
    – BillJ
    Mar 10, 2022 at 16:53

Looking at the TV was/were John and Jane.

The expression "looking at the TV" is a preposed complement. Such complements serve as a link to the preceding discourse.

The subject is "John and Jane". A subject that has the form of a coordination of NPs linked by the coordinator "and" takes a plural verb, so "were" is correct.

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