Which verb should be used in the following:

  1. You and not I was/were present yesterday.

  2. You but not I am/are guilty of the misdeed.

Is there a rule to solve such problems?

  • Hello and welcome to ELU! What exactly is your problem? Do you need to use one of the verbs (a/b)?
    – Stephie
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 5:16
  • yes.just that was the purpose of my question. Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 5:18
  • In such mixed uses of singular pronouns, the pronoun closest to the verb is matched.
    – user6951
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 5:40
  • @δοῦλος: good point. I should include that in my answer, unless you are going to write one.
    – Stephie
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 6:01
  • 2
    @δοῦλος But, in this case, doing so would be incorrect. You and not I was present yesterday. is wrong.
    – Catija
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 9:28

2 Answers 2

  1. You and not I was/were present yesterday.

  2. You but not I am/are guilty of the misdeed.

For your two specific examples, it seems that the verb should agree only with the first coordinate, that the 2nd coordinate is ignored for subject/verb agreement.

This is because it is the first coordinate that has that property which is described by the predicate of the sentence. And so, the verb ends up agreeing with the pronoun "You" in both examples:

  • 1.b "You and not I were present yesterday."

  • 2.b "You but not I are guilty of the misdeed."

For the meanings of your two examples:

  • version #1, "You" were present yesterday, but/and "I" was not.

  • version #2, "You" are guilty of the misdeed, but "I" am not.

Here's a related excerpt from the 2002 CGEL that provides an explanation of why this is so. On page 510:

(e) Coordination with and not or but not

Coordinations with and not and but not follow a simple rule. Since only the first coordinate has the property ascribed to it by the predicate, it is the first coordinate that determines the form of the verb:


  • i. a. Ed, and not the twins, [ is / *are ] here.

  • i. b. The twins, and not Ed, [ are / *is ] here.

And in case you're interested, here's an answer post with lots more info that is somewhat related to your question: “Not they” or “not them”

NOTE: The 2002 CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL).


The subject of a sentence must match the verb:

  • If the subject is singular, the verb is singular.
  • If the subject is plural, the verb is plural.

To find the subject of a sentence, ask " Who?".

Most English verbs are the same for singular and plural, except for an additional "s" for third person singular.
Your example uses an irregular verb ("to be"). You need to learn the different forms to choose /recognize the correct one, especially because it is an auxillary verb used in the formation different tenses.

  • 1
    In other words, ignore the "not xx" part.
    – user3169
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 6:03

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