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Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. (O'Rourke, P. J.)

The verb in the third person singular (it cause-s) dragged my attention. So I can rephrase the sentence this way "Something causes the fundamental ills of society, but it is no drug, not even alcohol."

But I also can rephrase it this way "No drug and no alcohol cause the fundamental ills of society." Now the subject of the verb is a group of things.

So both forms of the verb (cause / causes) are possible in the highlighted sentence?

  • Did you find this sentence somewhere? If so, can you provide a link to the source? – J.R. Jul 17 '13 at 13:07
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Looking at the Corpus of Contemporary American English for phrases matching "no [n*] [vvz]" (no followed by a noun and the -s form of a lexical verb), I notice that in all the cases, the noun is singular.

No parent wants to identify their son at a morgue.

Two in 5 cases are fatal; no cure exists.

No guy likes to be lectured.

Searching for "no [n*] [vv0]" (where [vv0] is a verb not declined for the third person singular), I got phrases where the noun is always plural.

At this time, no studies exist which address the psychological skills and their relationship to skill performance in the rodeo athlete as has been documented in other sports.

Then I ask, "Has anyone here ever heard of Irving Berlin?" No hands go up.

No laws require companies to test cosmetics on animals.

This is different from sentences "none of the [n*] [v*]" for which the verb could be declined for the third person singular, or not.

None of the cases has been solved, it said.

You can bet none of the others are doing such heavy lifting.

In fact, at this point, none of the candidates is being very specific.

None of the animals were burned.

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Hmm, "no drug and no alcohol cause" is a very unusual wording. I can't quote a rule that this breaks, but it's not the way native speakers say it.

The more likely wording would be, "Drugs and alcohol do not cause ..." or "Neither drugs nor alcohol cause ..."

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    You didn't answer -- given that can I change causes to cause in the first highlited sentence? – Graduate Jul 17 '13 at 13:05
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    Oh, sorry, I misunderstood your question. In that case it's an easy question: The answer is "no". The simple subject of the first sentence is "drug", which is singular, and therefore calls for a singular verb. The fact that a sentence could be reworded to convey the same idea but use a plural subject does NOT mean you can use a plural verb. What matters is the subject actually used in the sentence, not the subject that might have been used in some hypothetical other sentence. – Jay Jul 17 '13 at 13:36

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