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Consider the following sentence:

Two cats and one dog (were/was) sitting on the fence

Logically I would think the correct word to use here is "were" considering that we are talking about a group, plural, of animals, however, this sounds very wrong to me. I always want to use "was" here.

Which is the correct word to use?

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    You might be thinking of the informal yet commonly used compound sentence: "There's an apple and a banana on the table” Instead of "There are an apple and a banana …” which just sounds wrong to my ears, and yet there are two pieces of fruit on the table. In your example, I would say: “There's a dog and two cats sitting on the fence
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 16, 2023 at 0:06

1 Answer 1

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Maybe it 'sounds wrong' to you when you hear 'one dog were', but you must consider 'two cats and one dog' to be a plural number (three), of animals, and they were sitting on the fence. A cat and a dog are fighting. Two apples and one orange are on the table. Six dogs, eight cats, three men, two women, and one baby were in the room. In any case, if you didn't like it, you could always write or say 'one dog and two cats were...' and preserve the meaning.

Most constructions using 'and' of the form something and something else must refer to more than one thing (a plural quantity), and a plural verb must follow. One exception might be the name of a company or group considered as one thing, for example Brown and Root is an American company.

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    Any conjunction A and B refers, by its very construction, to more than one thing. That’s why the plural is called for. Nov 15, 2023 at 12:40
  • Your last sentence is no help when it comes to "A cat and a dog were..."
    – TonyK
    Nov 15, 2023 at 19:50
  • @TonyK A cat and a dog hung out on a fence. But of course you'll never find a dog on a fence. Nov 15, 2023 at 20:21
  • @TonyK Can you say who's 'last sentence' you meant, please? Are you suggesting that in this case there's a difference between 'A cat and a dog...' and the original 'two cats and one dog (were/was)…'? Nov 15, 2023 at 23:06
  • @RobbieGoodwin: I meant the last sentence in Michael Harvey's original answer, before the edits: "In any case, if you didn't like it..."
    – TonyK
    Nov 16, 2023 at 0:37

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