1

I wrote:

For example, the subject or the object of the sentence are directly dependent on the verb and in turn they may take other dependents.

Is it "are" or "is"? Or "they" or "it"? Because I used "or" in the subject, I don't know the verb is plural or singular.

  • Which is|are your preferred pet, a dog or a cat? BTW, "they may take other dependents". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 20 '15 at 18:37
  • *Which are your preferred pet, a dog or a cat? is ungrammatical. – snailboat Oct 20 '15 at 18:55
  • @snailboat: I agree. It was socratic. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 20 '15 at 21:17
6

The conjunction "or" is exclusive, which means that if it connects elements (called alternatives) that are both in singular, the phrase is considered to have singular number, which means you need to use "is" in a sentence like

The subject or the object of the sentence is directly dependent...

If one of the alternatives is in plural, it depends on the relative order of the alternatives in the sentence. Choose the number of the closest to the verb alternative:

The teacher or the pupils are liable for the noise in the classroom.
The pupils or the teacher is liable for that racket we keep hearing.

Same goes with other constructs that can stand for both numbers, like "which" or "who":

Is it Paul or his kids who like hiking?
Was it Paul's kids or Paul himself who is coming to live with us?

Other examples and more on subject-verb agreement can be seen, for instance here.


The same agreement needs to exist between the alternatives and any pronoun in a dependent clause. For instance,

Has your dog or cat had its vaccinations?

Your sentence therefore needs to be

For example, the subject or the object of the sentence is directly dependent on the verb and in turn it may take other dependents.

  • What about "they"? could I still use "they" to mean both have the same property. – Ahmad Oct 20 '15 at 20:01
  • Sorry, missed that one. Going to edit it in. – Victor Bazarov Oct 20 '15 at 20:47
  • @VictorBazarov Does your answer hold for the other coordinator and ? (I wanted to ask his question couple of months ago, but I forgot to ask) – Cardinal Oct 20 '15 at 23:14
  • Not sure what you mean. "And" introduces plural. How can that "hold"? – Victor Bazarov Oct 21 '15 at 0:00
  • @Cardinal And and or don't work the same way. – snailboat Oct 23 '15 at 21:10

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