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Does the plurality of the object have to agree with the plurality of the subject? For example, which one of the following sentences is correct?

  • Tigers are wild animals and they live in the jungle.

  • Tigers are a wild animal and they live in the jungle.

and similarly,

  • Sports are an important part of the school curriculum.
  • Sports are important parts of the school curriculum.
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    Tigers are wild animals or The tiger is a wild animal (using the singular to mean 'a typical member of the species'). PS Wild animal isn't an object here. Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 12:12
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    It's a bit sloppy/informal, but Moles are a wild animal is just about acceptable to me. I don't recommend learners to copy the usage, but they shouldn't assume if a native speaker uses it, he's just making a mistake. The writer of my linked example looks very articulate to me - I certainly wouldn't want to find fault with his command of English. Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 13:26
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    Side note, in British English you wouldn't say sports, rather "Sport is..."
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 13:26
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    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. - Re: your comments in your answer - I didn't say that anything was wrong or nonsense, I just gave the two versions that seemed most idiomatic to me. Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 14:56
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    @ASlowLearner - I think most people would consider sport[s], grouped together as a type of activity, to be one part of the curriculum, rather than each sport as a separate part. Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 15:00

4 Answers 4

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No, subjects and complements do not have to agree in number. Objects, which are a special type of complement, do not need to either.

Examples:

  1. This penguin likes tigers. Singular subject, plural object
  2. People love this book. Plural subject, singular object
  3. Tigers are an endangered species. Plural subject, singular complement
  4. The problem is the mice. Singular subject, plural complement

Some users here have said in answers that the sentence Tigers are a wild animal is incorrect, or that it does not make sense, or that it is not true. They are mistaken. The sentence is perfectly grammatical and perfectly natural. I would prefer Tigers are wild animals, but what I prefer is not important, and I don't expect or want anyone to take any notice of it!

Here are some real examples from the web:

  • Tigers are a fascinating, and endangered, animal. 1

  • Well-known for their distinct orange and black striped coats, tigers are a popular animal to see at the Zoo. 2

  • Tigers are a popular animal in mythology and pop culture. 3

  • Nowadays tigers are a rare animal, so, the cost of one tiger is much higher than 50 years ago.4

  • Tigers are a seriously endangered animal.5

  • The constituents and effect are very similar to tiger bone, the use of which is prohibited because tigers are a protected animal in China.6

One of those links is from a peer reviewed research paper. So, it does not matter whether users here think this is good style or not, it is perfectly grammatical. Many expert native speakers say, write and publish sentences like these every day.

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    One good thing about species is that (like sheep) the singular and plural are the same. Anyway, there's obviously no problem with Tigers are an endangered species, but even though you might occasionally encounter Tigers are an endangered animal from a competent native Anglophone, I don't think it's a good idea to give learners the impression there's no difference in idiomacy between that and the far more common "consistent" phrasings Tigers are endangered animals and The tiger is an endangered animal Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 14:17
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    Yes, but this particular OP specialises in finding "counterexamples" that appear to conflict with what dictionaries or textbooks say. Which may be because they conflate "idiomatically commonplace" usage notes with "syntactically required" formats, OR because precious few "syntax rules" really are "unbreakable" to all competent native speakers in all contexts (even though most learners would be well advised to understand and respect those rules themselves all the time). Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 14:30
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    @ASlowLearner: The difference is simply that the "plurality clash" version "tigers are an endangered animal" is relatively uncommon, and you can see for yourself that at least some perfectly competent native speakers are saying it's either invalid or they don't like it. But me and Araucaria are saying it's not actually invalid. He may or may not agree with me that even though we don't think it's "invalid", I strongly recommend you not to use that format yourself. Just don't assume that any native Anglophone who does so does so out of ignorance! As to the other two versions, they're fine. Commented Jul 24, 2023 at 15:33
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    I'm not sure if it helps to make an "appeal to authority" by saying one of the examples comes from a peer-reviewed paper. There's no reason to suppose that an authority on Tigers is also an authority on how to write good English. Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 9:21
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    @DominicCronin The main reasons for mentioning peer-reviewed, published papers are that they are expected to be written in formal and proper academic English (no claim here that formal=proper, far from it), secondly they are peer reviewed and also edited by the journal, and the vast majority of any slips and errors, in any journal worth its salt are picked up at this stage before the paper is published. In contrast, it is more likely that a personal blog or a mere comment on the web contains slips and errors which haven't been pulled out by a reviewer or proofreader. They could just be slips. Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 9:37
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No, the subject and object of a verb don't have to agree:

A man eats some chips.

The subject (man) is singular and the object (chips) is plural.

In your example, you don't have an object, but a complement, and the verb is a linking verb. Again the subject and complement don't have to agree, but they often do.

In the case of the "tigers" example you would use the plural. It is not correct to say that "Tigers are a wild animal." No grammar rule has been broken, but it simply isn't true! It is true to say that "Tigers are wild animals."

In the second example, it is very natural to say "Sports are a part..." The many sports are one part of the curriculum. That is true.

It is easy to make other examples:

The people are a team.

My family is all men.

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  • Thank you so much for your answer! Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 0:58
  • "No grammar rule has been broken, but it simply isn't true!" I'm not sure if this is the case? From a literal perspective yeah, but I think there's a subtle kind of metonymy going on there. Like, I think it's too low-level to even call it a metaphor, but at least to me it parses as though there's just some kind of idiomatic abstraction happening where the singular complement gets implicitly mapped to all members of the group individually.
    – Idran
    Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 16:29
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Each tiger is a separate wild animal (and the species is a single line in the list of different types of wild animals), but each sport can be considered a smaller part of a big important part of the school curriculum.

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In the examples provided by the OP the verb connecting subject and object is "are". In that special case I would always expect agreement, and similarly for all similar cases such as "is", "were", "might become" and so on (I am uncertain how to describe them collectively) For other types of connecting verb, as many examples show, there is no reason to expect agreement.

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