I would like to ask which of the following sentences is grammatically correct.

  1. They (nouns) can be the subjects of sentences
  2. They (nouns) can be the subject of a sentence

Shouldn't we use the first sentence as "they" is a plural pronoun and "subjects of sentences" is also plural? So each noun can be the subject of a sentence (or sentences). The second sentence seems to mean that all nouns can be the subject of the same sentence. However, I see the second sentence much more often, so I am confused.

  • Neither strikes me as obviously wrong, but instead of (2) I think It (a noun) can be the subject of a sentence would be more natural. Jul 22, 2022 at 9:22

1 Answer 1


English can be fairly loose with number concordance, especially with "notional" agreement. In a strict sense, you are correct: multiple nouns can be multiple subjects of multiple sentences. However, colloquially (and even in some formal contexts) people will often use a singular predicative expression (such as "the subject of a sentence") with a plural subject (such as "they").

The concept is a bit similar to that of pronouns that have a distributive meaning, such as "everyone". See this question, for example: "Everyone put on his coats" or "everyone put on their coats".

By the way, your second example sentence would be correct if you were mentioning the word "they" (instead of using it):

"They" can be the subject of a sentence.

  • Thank you, it is clearer to me now. Am I right to assume "they can be the subject of a sentence" having the same meaning as "Each of them can be the subject of a sentence"? "They" in this context has a distributive meaning (each member is considered separately).
    – CuongTran
    Jul 22, 2022 at 23:00
  • Yes, it would have the same meaning as "each of them can be the subject of a sentence", which nobody would object to on grammatical grounds. Jul 22, 2022 at 23:32

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