Do the brave deserve the fair?



The sentence is:

None but the brave _________ the fair.

Where the blank is to filled with deserve or deserves. My understanding is that it should be filled with deserve since the sentence here refers to more than one person i.e. many brave people and not just one, so it's it in the plural form, and hence, we should use deserve. But I am confused as more than half of the children in my class are using deserves.

Also, I checked the internet and found this article using deserves but the free dictionary using deserve.

Can someone please clarify my doubts on this one.

Thanks a lot.

Gaurang Tandon

Posted 2014-04-10T14:25:12.010

Reputation: 820

3Depending on how you parse this, it might have nothing to do with "the brave". None (but the brave) deserve the fair. None (save Joe) deserve the fair. None (except for the Addams family) deserve the fair. I wonder if "deserve" needs to fit with "none", not "the brave." Think about if it had been worded like this: None deserve the fair, except the brave. (Or: No one deserves the fair, except the brave.) No wonder there is so much confusion on this one. – J.R. – 2014-04-10T14:38:35.820

@J.R. Wow! That's a nice explanation. It really clarified my doubts. Could you please put it as an answer (448 chars is really an answer ;) ) ? – Gaurang Tandon – 2014-04-10T14:43:14.350


You might be interested in these as well: 1, 2, 3.

– Tyler James Young – 2014-04-10T14:53:59.387

@TylerJamesYoung Thanks for the links ! Looks like I seriously need to learn some grammar, those prototypical and archetypal things are going over my head :) – Gaurang Tandon – 2014-04-10T14:57:28.283

@GaurangTandon "Archetypal" and "prototypical" aren't actually grammar-specific words. If anything, "archetype" has to do with literary analysis or possibly sociology, but they're fairly common words. – Kyle Strand – 2014-04-10T20:54:21.320



As J.R. says, singular or plural deserve will work equally well. The bare sentence may be parsed as either:

Only brave men deserve fair women.
Only a brave man deserves a fair woman.

There is, however, an overriding consideration. This line is a quotation from a poem by John Dryden, Alexander's Feast; or, the Power of Music.

'Twas at the royal feast for Persia won
    By Philip's warlike son—
  Aloft in awful state
  The godlike hero sate
    On his imperial throne;
  His valiant peers were placed around,
Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound
  (So should desert in arms be crown'd);
The lovely Thais by his side
Sate like a blooming Eastern bride
In flower of youth and beauty's pride:—
  Happy, happy, happy pair!
    None but the brave
    None but the brave
  None but the brave deserves the fair!

Dryden wrote it singular, with ‘the brave’ referring specifically to Alexander and ‘the fair’ referring specifically to Thais.

In present-day English we no longer use the ADJECTIVE to refer to a single person except in epithets (e.g. Alexander the Great), only for classes of people. The singular therefore sounds odd to anyone who does not know the source of the line—which is probably 99% of the people who use it.

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2014-04-10T14:25:12.010

Reputation: 176 469

So basically, I can use any of both, but which form is more preferred, sort of, in general use ? – Gaurang Tandon – 2014-04-10T15:03:23.043

3@GuarangTandon You may use either, but deference to the poet suggests you should use the line as he wrote it. If you use the plural a hearer may chide you for misquoting. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2014-04-10T15:05:35.577

Well, I didn't know that the line has been taken exactly from this poem. But as he wishes, I should use deserves. Thanks both J.R. and StoneyB ! Help appreciated ! (Though I still believe most of the students had guessed the answer, or based it on incorrect assumptions, for they must not have ever heard of this poem :) ) – Gaurang Tandon – 2014-04-10T15:08:31.657

2@GaurangTandon You are now in the happy position of being able to correct anyone who misquotes the poem, which will earn you a reputation for great erudition! – StoneyB on hiatus – 2014-04-10T15:11:36.637

All credits to you people ! :D – Gaurang Tandon – 2014-04-10T15:12:18.250

@GaurangTandon Brave is ordinarily an adjective, but here it is used as a noun = 'brave person'. This is usual in European languages; in fact, Latin treated nouns and adjectives as a single class. English is more restrictive than other European languages and usually only allows an adjective to act as a noun 1) where the ADJECTIVE means all those which/who are ADJECTIVE and 2) where ADJECTIVE has been defined as a category: "We have red shirts and blue shirts. Which do you want?" "I'd like a red." – StoneyB on hiatus – 2014-04-10T16:40:33.090

@GaurangTandon Superlative adjectives may also act as nouns, designating a specific individual: the best, the worst. Some adjectives have become distinct nouns: a brave, for instance, is a common term for a Native American warrior and a Red is a communist. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2014-04-10T16:51:34.213

There's the quote from the poem, but there is also the general case. If we change the sentence to "None but the desperate eat worms" then we're back to a more generic question; that is, which works best for the general case? – J.R. – 2014-04-10T17:10:26.687

@GaurangTandon By using "deserves" you also avoid the censure of pedants who (incorrectly, as far as I can tell) believe that "none" must always be treated as singular. – Kyle Strand – 2014-04-10T20:35:15.190

Dryden was writing in the seventeenth century. Common usage has changed from that time. For example, Gilbert used the phrase late in the nineteenth century, but treated "none" as plural in accordance with modern usage: "Beard the lion in his lair/None but the brave deserve the fair." A quick Google Books search shows twice as many published uses for "deserve," and many or most of the published uses of "deserves" are quoting Dryden directly. In modern usage, "deserve" is much more common. – chapka – 2014-04-29T13:44:57.830

@chapka Usage hasn't changed, just purpose. Dryden composed the line for a specific wedding: only this brave man deserves that fair woman. Gilbert generalizes this into a gnomic truth. That's perfectly legitimate - Dryden has no copyright in the phrase - but it grates on my ear in exactly the same way as misquoting Pope's line as "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." – StoneyB on hiatus – 2014-04-29T13:54:20.737


The verb doesn't need to agree with the noun "the brave", it needs to agree with the noun phrase "none but the brave". Consider:

None including the brave ____ the fair

The construction is the same and the requirement for singular/plural is the same, but now it is more clear that the subject of the verb is not "the brave".

I think this reduces the question to the (well-known) issue whether "none" takes a singular or plural verb. The answer is that in common usage it can take either, some people are more pedantic than others about cases where it "must" take one in particular, and monographs on the subject are readily available via your favourite search engine.

Furthermore, "the brave" could be used to mean the plurality of all brave people, or (more rarely) a single brave person. Therefore "The brave deserve the fair" and "The brave deserves the fair" could both be correct.

Mind you, the latter to me sounds like it's talking about a Native American warrior rather than an imagined brave person. But as in the source of the quotation, if you introduce a particular brave person into consideration then you can (at risk of sounding very lofty) refer to that person as "the brave".

Steve Jessop

Posted 2014-04-10T14:25:12.010

Reputation: 1 537


“None” is the subject of the sentence, and “none” is historically singular as it is the negation of “one,” which means that it requires the singular verb “deserves,” or so I learn in my high school English class.

However, I've seen so many examples of a plural verb being used with “none” in contemporary writing that doing so seems likely to be deemed grammatically correct in all but the most formal settings. Because using a plural verb does not introduce any ambiguity into the sentence, I don't regard the shift in usage as a degeneration of the English language; that's just how language evolves over time.

Joel Micah Donovan

Posted 2014-04-10T14:25:12.010

Reputation: 9

I was taught that rule too, but I don't think it holds up on closer inspection; in particular, apparently this isn't so much a shift as simply the way things have always been.

– Kyle Strand – 2014-04-10T20:53:13.713


It should takes singular verb that is 'deserves' as the subject is 'None' as well as 'the brave' implies 'the brave one' and not 'the brave people' therefore in any case the verb is singular.

Nitin Negi

Posted 2014-04-10T14:25:12.010

Reputation: 1