What is the correct verb choice (were or was) in this sentence:

a) The natural sciences WERE the subject of our discussion.
b) The natural sciences WAS the subject of our discussion.

Also, what about this one?

c) The subject of our discussion WERE natural sciences.
d) The subject of our discussion WAS natural sciences.

Please, if you can give a deeper explanation with some references...

  • 3
    There's nothing "deep" here - [natural] sciences are plural, so the correct verb form is were. And subject [of our discussion] is singular, so the verb is was. – FumbleFingers Jan 24 '15 at 12:59
  • @FumbleFingers - what if we construe the second sentence as a reverted one, like "Some apples were on the table" -> "On the table there were some apples"? – CowperKettle Jan 24 '15 at 13:02
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers Could you plz convert the comment to the answer - you are a native speaker and your answer is very important, secondly, if it upvoted more than other answers its value value will be more important – Ilan Jan 24 '15 at 13:02
  • @CopperKettle: In your example, [some] apples is a plural noun phrase (NP). But we can also use apple as a singular (uncountable, mass) noun - for example, "In this pie there is some apple". – FumbleFingers Jan 24 '15 at 13:47
  • @Ilan: I don't want to post an actual answer because I don't understand why you have a problem with singular/plural in your examples. – FumbleFingers Jan 24 '15 at 13:49

I was

You were

He/She/It was

We were

You were

They were

natural sciences = they -> were

the subject = it -> was

  • 2
    Please try to explain your answer in full sentences. – p.s.w.g Jan 24 '15 at 14:47

The natural sciences WERE the subject of our discussion.

There's some nuance here. Let me walk you through this.

This isn't quite as unambiguous as others here have mentioned. Here's why:

This is correct -

[NOUNS] were (< plural verb) the subject of our discussion.

So it seems clear that the correct form is 'natural sciences were the subject of our discussion.'

However, 'natural sciences' may not refer to something that is plural. Instead, it may be the name of something that is singular and implicit in the sentence, a college class for instance.

Contrast this correct statement (about a class) with a singular verb:

Natural sciences starts at 9 AM.

With the plural verb:

Natural sciences start with nature!

If you had asked,

Natural sciences WERE the subject of our discussion.


Natural sciences WAS the subject of our discussion.

The correct answer would have depended entirely upon context.

There's another nuance here though. It's uncommon to include 'the' as part of something's name in English, and supports the idea that you're speaking of actual natural sciences (plural), and not a class.

Because of that, the correct form here is -

The natural sciences WERE the subject of our discussion.

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