My word processor suggested a singular verb, but I feel it should be plural

5

Here is my sentence.

An angular threshold as well as a few distance and height thresholds are basically used for the reconstruction.

I think I should use the verb "are used" as the subject is plural. But, my word processor gave me an error and suggested to use "is used".

I want to know whether I am wrong with the sentence.

gnp

Posted 2013-10-22T19:54:08.847

Reputation: 1 896

Is "An angular threshold and a few distance and height thresholds" also correct? If that is true, then (1) I think that you should get rid of "as well as", and (2) you're right about "are used". – RonJohn – 2017-12-29T03:02:24.343

Answers

10

The subject of your sentence is "An angular threshold..." Imagine if you used parentheses, like this:

An angular threshold (as well as a few distance and height thresholds) is basically used for the reconstruction.

Sentences constructed like yours often sound odd because our ears are expect the most-recent noun to agree with the verb, but that word might not be the noun that the verb should be agreeing with.

If you don't like this conundrum, there are a couple ways you can fix it, including these:

Angular thresholds, as well as a few distance and height thresholds, are basically used for the reconstructions.

An angular threshold, as well as an occasional distance or height threshold, is basically used for the reconstruction.

When you mix plurals and singulars, though, you risk having your sentence either sound peculiar, or else be ungrammatical.

P.S. Don't always trust a grammar checker. In this case, though, I think it did its job rather well.

J.R.

Posted 2013-10-22T19:54:08.847

Reputation: 108 123

Hmm. I think it can be interpreted as subordinate or coordinate. Do you disagree? – snailplane – 2013-10-22T21:25:13.577

@snailboat - I'll grant you that. Maybe I was trying too hard to get into the "brain" of the word processor. The mix of the singular and the plurals gets messy either way, though. – J.R. – 2013-10-22T21:27:16.970

I think I've given up on writing an answer that explains it both ways. Switching back and forth between both interpretations has fried my brain (something similar to semantic satiation...?) and I can't seem to tell what's right or wrong anymore! But I did vote up this answer. – snailplane – 2013-10-22T23:46:33.293

@J.R.♦: thanks for the comments. in your second option, should it be reconstructions or without "S". – gnp – 2013-10-23T02:56:44.143

You're the domain expert, not me. I have no idea what you're reconstructing. :^) But you might want to see if the sentence can be rewritten so that everything is plural, or everything is singular. If that's possible, it might make a less confusing sentence. – J.R. – 2013-10-23T08:39:16.567

0

You are right; the word processor's algorithm has basically run out of its capacity and is falling back on synthetic rules, which language doesn't always follow.

For instance, it is undeniably correct to say:

A lot of people are in agreement.

rather than:

A lot of people is in agreement.*

Your word processor will probably get this one right, because it has some pattern rule which takes into account the behavior of the term "A lot".

Without such a rule, if we fall back on the synthetic application of rules, we are led to the conclusion that "is" is the right verb. If we stick in parentheses, we get this:

A lot (of people) is ...

Clearly, a "a lot" is one thing, which is why the article "a" is used. That lot is modified by "of people": it is one lot, containing people, right?

Basically, in your sentence, "as well" just serves as a conjunction for the sake of variety. You might as well have written:

An angular threshold, and a few distance and height thresholds are basically used for the reconstruction.

Whether the "as well" clause is extraneous to the sentence, or whether it is just a conjunction in a list, is quite ambiguous. We can parenthesize it equally well like this:

An (angular threshold as well as a few distance and height thresholds) are basically used for the reconstruction.

Your word processor's grammar checker neglected to explore this parse, and only processed this one:

An angular threshold (as well as a few distance and height thresholds) are basically used for the reconstruction.

Ignoring the other parse is only justified if we put in commas:

An angular threshold, as well as a few distance and height thresholds, is basically used for the reconstruction.

But even now, "are" can still be used, for the same reasons that utterances like "a lot of people are" or "those two are a funny pair" are correct, dispensing with agreement based on apparently plurality, and going with semantic plurality for the verb.

Kaz

Posted 2013-10-22T19:54:08.847

Reputation: 6 114