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There have been a question, find the error in the following sentence,

The sum and substance of this poem is as follows.

I think the problem is the is in is as follows, because sum and substance are two things. But somebody told me that when we say something like A and B, the whole phrase acts as a singular thing and we should say A and B is. But this sounds odd.

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It is an idiom. Another well-known combination of the same nature is "part and parcel". Both are used with singular verb forms.

  • So in general I should use are, but here is is right because it is an idiom. – user31782 Aug 14 '15 at 20:13
  • @user31782: You might do better to just forget about this "idiom". Personally, I think it's well past its sell-by date. But as Victor says, if you are going to use it, you should stick to the singular verb form (is). – FumbleFingers Aug 14 '15 at 20:31
  • @FumbleFingers I couldn't understand. Should I use A and B is or A and B are? Are you talking about the idiom only? – user31782 Aug 14 '15 at 20:37
  • @user31782: Yes, I'm only saying sum and substance is a dated usage. But plenty of others (such as Victor's part and parcel) are still in common use. In cases like this (where the two nouns always go together as a "fixed expression"), you should use a singular verb. – FumbleFingers Aug 14 '15 at 20:46
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    This chart gives a clear picture of how sum and substance has gone out of fashion, whereas part and parcel has stayed in common use for the past couple of centuries. If someone really did set your example text as an exam question supposedly containing an "error", they're in the wrong job. – FumbleFingers Aug 14 '15 at 20:48

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