In the official translation of a policy statement by a German politician it reads

Our greatest strength is our alliances.

As a German native, this makes me cringe, because the German rule is

"If the subject and an equational nominative in a sentence do not have the same numerus, the finite verb is usually in the plural"

Where "equational nominative" seems to be similar to what is called a predicative noun in the English language; also explained here.

The predicative nominative confers information about the subject. Therefore it makes sense to me, that if the predicative is a plural noun, a plural verb is used. That seems not to be the case in english, right?

If the german sentence would be the other way around, the english translation would read "Our alliances are our greatest strength", correct? That sounds much better to me, but sadly isn't what the guy said.

  • 2
    "As a German native, this makes me cringe" - this is funny only because you just broke a rule of English, called a dangling modifier, that makes a lot of English speakers cringe! You essentially just said that "this" is "a German native".
    – stangdon
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 13:29
  • 1
    @stangdon - can't agree with you on this one. That's an English teacher's point - almost no one else (including me) would notice anything wrong with that sentence.
    – cruthers
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 15:07
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    @cruthers Agree to disagree, then. In the OP's sentence, yes, the meaning is clear from context. But consider something like, "As a judge, his conduct has been reprehensible and deserving of the most severe punishment." Who's the judge? The speaker or the guy who deserves punishment? Grammatically, it can only be the guy deserving punishment...but that's not how people often use the phrasing.
    – stangdon
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 15:11
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    @stangdon, I see your point and how the judge example is ambiguous without context. But this type of locution is so routine in English nowadays that it's pretty hard to call it wrong, particularly where there isn't ambiguity.
    – cruthers
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 15:14
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    It's one of those "zombie rules" made up by pedants with no feel for the language, and incorporated into the artificial language which was imposed on learners for years. You have come up with a context where it can be ambiguous - congratulations. Except that in a real context it almost certaliny isn't ambiguous, and the kind of "grammatical" that forces a perverse interpretation is nothing to do with the grammar of the language, and everything to do with gatekeeping.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 15:44

2 Answers 2


Correct, that is not the case in English. If the translation were...

Our greatest strength are our alliances.

... it would sound awful and would be roundly called "wrong" by native speakers. On the other hand, the switcheroo that you suggested...

Our alliances are our greatest strength.

... sounds beautiful.


[Our greatest strength] is [our alliances].

There's nothing wrong with this example, even though there is no agreement of number.

There are numerous cases where predicative and predicand differ in grammatical number. Other clear examples are:

[The only thing we need now] is [some new curtains].

[The major asset of the team] is [its world-class opening bowlers].

In both those examples, and yours, the subject is singular, the predicative complement plural, and the verb singular. Clauses of this kind are commonplace. Since this construction is generally reversible we likewise find a plural subject with a singular predicative complement: Its world-class opening bowlers are the major asset of the team. Note, though, that the verb becomes plural "are".

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