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Plural subject with singular verb Options
Konstantin Frolov
Posted: Friday, November 17, 2017 4:08:44 AM

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Location: Zelenograd, Moscow, Russia
Hello!

In the sentence over here, the speaker uses the subject '20 years' with has. I've seen some similar cases but I still don't feel how to use that in my language correctly. Could anyone please briefly expand on the topic or provide a reference as to where the material may be found in grammar books or something?

Thanks!
leonAzul
Posted: Friday, November 17, 2017 4:42:48 AM

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Location: Miami, Florida, United States
Konstantin Frolov wrote:
Hello!

In the sentence over here, the speaker uses the subject '20 years' with has. I've seen some similar cases but I still don't feel how to use that in my language correctly. Could anyone please briefly expand on the topic or provide a reference as to where the material may be found in grammar books or something?

Thanks!


I believe that you have not heard this correctly. The selection begins: "The few twenty years I have spent…"

"Make it go away, Mrs Whatsit," he whispered. "Make it go away. It's evil."
Konstantin Frolov
Posted: Friday, November 17, 2017 4:57:35 AM

Rank: Newbie

Joined: 12/3/2014
Posts: 29
Neurons: 21,554
Location: Zelenograd, Moscow, Russia
Thank you for answering.

I'm afraid, however, the question still remains: what I was asking about is 'the short twenty years ... has taught me'
leonAzul
Posted: Friday, November 17, 2017 5:06:37 AM

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Location: Miami, Florida, United States
To answer the more general part of your question, the topics you want to search for are "collective nouns" and "number".

There is a feature of English that allows the use of an expression that is literally plural in number to be treated grammatically as if it were a singular thing. This can happen with an expression of time, which usually involves a continuum rather than separate moments, or when an expression of weight, volume, or items is to be considered as a singular lot.





"Make it go away, Mrs Whatsit," he whispered. "Make it go away. It's evil."
leonAzul
Posted: Friday, November 17, 2017 5:07:41 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 8/11/2011
Posts: 8,128
Neurons: 25,817
Location: Miami, Florida, United States
Konstantin Frolov wrote:
Thank you for answering.

I'm afraid, however, the question still remains: what I was asking about is 'the short twenty years ... has taught me'


I'll listen again, perhaps I stopped too soon.Anxious

Indeed, I did! Sorry for the mistake.

The answer still is as above. The phrase "few twenty years" is treated logically as a single block of experience, as are the "short few terms I have been on Oxford Union committee".

Also, the topic of "mass nouns" is more relevant than my first suggestions. So far, I haven't found an article that addresses your question directly, but this from Wikipedia touches on it and gives sources for further reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_noun



"Make it go away, Mrs Whatsit," he whispered. "Make it go away. It's evil."
thar
Posted: Friday, November 17, 2017 7:15:23 AM

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I can't access the clip, but I can give you a more general point.

Sometimes the noun is not the point.
The verb is chosen by the spirit of what is said, not by grammatical rules.


That is why you say 'a couple are getting married' because there are two people in a couple.
It is why you might say 'the government say that...' because there are lots of people in the government.

Conversely, something which is a plural object may have a singular meaning.

Is he talking about 'the years', really? The years haven't taught him anything. Years don't teach!
The experience of those years, the life he has lived over those years, that is what has taught him.
So, even if this is just misheard, and is a plural, there are examples where you might not grammatically match the subject and verb. But the meaning, the thing it represents - sometimes that is what they are really thinking about, and that is what controls the number of the verb.

Normally, it feels wrong to have a plural noun ending in 's' directly before a singular verb, because that is such a dissonance. But apart from that - if the two things are separate, or it is a singular noun - the brain doesn't compose in terms of grammar, it joins blocks together to express ideas.
Konstantin Frolov
Posted: Saturday, November 18, 2017 3:25:47 AM

Rank: Newbie

Joined: 12/3/2014
Posts: 29
Neurons: 21,554
Location: Zelenograd, Moscow, Russia
Thanks to both authors for very helpful answers!
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