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words. For example, Shakespeare employs 'news' sometimes in the singular, at other times in the plural : as,
Gonzalo. What is the news ?
l'empest, v. 1. This news is old enough ; yet it is every day's news.
Measure for Measure, iii. 2.
Much Ado, ii. 1.
1st Hen. IV. iii. 2. These news are everywhere; every tongue speaks them.
Hen. VIII. ii. 2.
Installed Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.
Ibid. iii. 2. 114. So in the use of means,' we observe variety. Occasionally we find the singular form 'mean : as,
Yet nature is made better by no mean,
That nature makes.— Winter's Tale, iv. 3.
means to do the prince my master good.—Ibid. iv. 3. By this means shall we sound what skill she hath.
1st Hen. 11. i. 2. But it occurs just as often in the plural, and this is the more usual construction in modern English : Chief Justice. Your means are very slender, and
your waste is great. Falstaff. I would it were otherwise; I would my means were greater, and my waist slenderer.
2nd Hen. IV. i. 2. With all appliances and means to boot.Ibid. iii. 1. 115. It is more usual to find pains' in the plural; but even this word is found in the singular : as,
Nay, then, thou lov'st it not,
Taming of the Shrew, iv. 3.
for this pains Cæsar h:2th hanged him.
Ant. and Cleop. iv. 6. 116. A collective noun represents a number of individuals collected in one mass or group; as, army, government, committee. It is singular in form, but it may often be regarded as conveying the idea of plurality. In older English, these nouns were frequently considered as singular, where modern writers would use them with a verb in the plural : as,
Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they
shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance.
Psalm lxxxix. 15. Here, however, we observe a mixture of two constructions ; for know' and 'they'imply plurality.
Accordingly, the older grammarians decided that nouns of this kind might be treated as either singular or plural. But modern grammarians hold that, when the idea of unity is prominent, the verb must be used in the singular; when, on the other hand, the idea of plurality is prominent, the verb must be in the plural : as,
The House has decided the question.
The College of Cardinals have elected the Pope. 117. Professor Bain distinguishes between a collective noun and a noun of multitude, in this way, that a collective noun’ represents a great number of individuals included in one mass or body. Thus he says, (English Grammar, p. 12,) 'when a multitude act together, as a fleet," or a parliament,” they are spoken of in the singular number and have a singular verb: as
“ the fleet was victorious,” “the Parliament was opened by the Queen in person.” But the designation “noun of multitude" is applied to express collective bodies, whose action is not collective but individual : as “the clergy were opposed to the measure.'
According to this view, when the predicate is true of the whole mass in its collective unity, the verb should be in the singular : as the fleet is under orders to sail.' But when the predicate applies to the individuals of the collection acting separately, the verb should be in the plural : as the people
of the rude tribes of America are remarkable for their artifice and duplicity : ''the public are often deceived by false appearances.'-See Bain, English Grammar, p. 172.
118. Where so much depends upon the intention of the writer, it is difficult to lay down precise rules. We might suppose, however, that consistency was desirable ; that having once made up our minds to prefer the singular or the plural construction, we ought to persevere in the same to the end of the sentence. Yet Dr. Angus says (Handbook, § 365), “Sometimes the two usages are combined in the same sentence with peculiar force : as,
Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language.
-Gen. xi. 6.' And Professor Bain remarks (English Grammar, p. 173) :• The following sentence sounds awkward, but it is strictly correct: “The Megarean sect was founded by Euclid, not the mathematician, and were the happy inventors of logical syllogism, or the art of quibbling."-Tytler. In the first part, the sect is spoken of in its collective capacity; and in the second, as individuals.'
But, to say the least, this sudden change of construction within the limits of a sentence, leaves the whole sentence open to cavil. Professor Bain admits that the sound is awkward; and this very objection is likely to arouse the suspicion of a critic. Besides, if a sentence is somewhat long, and pronouns are introduced referring to the collective noun, confusion will almost inevitably ensue; so that, in careless compositions, we may even find it in one clause, and they in another. 119. The safest rule is this : 1. As to mere form: A collective noun, used as a sub
ject-nominative, may take the verb in the singu
lar, or in the plural. 2. As to meaning : Consider whether you intend to
give prominence to the idea of unity or of plurality; and put the verb in the singular, or in
the plural, accordingly. 3. But never attempt to combine both constructions
in the same sentence. 4. And if pronouns are introduced, referring to the
collective noun, be careful to employ them consistently, in the singular, or in the plural, according to the view originally taken.
120. When two or more subject-nominatives are used in the same sentence, some difficult questions are involved. We have to consider the doctrine of contraction, and the vexed question whether conjunctions couple sentences alone, or whether they may be said to couple words also. See $$ 99-102.
We shall discuss the particular cases.
121. I. Cases, where the subject-nominatives are in the singular; and where the conjunction and is the connective employed. (a) When the predicate is true of the subjects, not seve
rally, but jointly, the verb must be in the plural :
William and Mary are a handsome couple.
triumvirate. (6) When the predicate is true of the subjects severally,
the doctrine of contraction may be applied, and the predicate-verb, in the singular, may be understood of each subject-nominative. In some languages, as in Latin and in German, the principle is admitted more freely than with us. Thus, in one of Uhland's ballads, the hostess says,
Mein Bier und Wein ist frisch and klar:
My Beer and Wine is fresh and clear. 122. However, there are limitations. If the nouns used as subject-nominatives denote living beings, and especially persons, the verb is always in the plural: as, ' Cæsar and Pompey
And in regard to things without life, the same rule is observed where distinct objects are signified. But in the case of nouns denoting abstract ideas, as virtue,' piety,' vice,'' folly,' and the like, we find considerable variation. Here the Latin language freely admits a verb in the singular : as, ‘Cum tempus necessitasque postulat, decertandum manu est :'when occasion and necessity demands, we must fight amain. And those English writers who have formed their style upon the Latin models sometimes employ the same construction: so Hooker speaks of the glorious inhabitants of those sacred palaces, where nothing but light and blessed im
go to war.'
mortality, no shadow of matter for tears, discontentment, griefs, and uncomfortable passions to work upon ; but all joy, tranquillity, and peace, even for ever and ever doth dwell.' – Ecclesiastical Polity, i. 4.
The Oxford edition of 1807 reads, 'do dwell.'
123. But this form does not find general approval with modern critics; and by some it is condemned as a breach of English grammar; on this ground, that nouns in the singular, coupled by the conjunction and,' are equivalent to a plural.
As to principle, the form may be defended, if we admit the doctrine of contraction. But in practice the following rules will be found to work well :
Rule 1.-When the two or more nouns, in the singular,
mean different things, or represent distinct ideas, put
the verb in the plural. Rule 11.-But when the two nouns mean the same thing,
or very nearly the same, strike out one of them, put the verb in the singular, and learn to avoid using two
words where one is enough. 124. Whenever modifying words are introduced, such as every,' each,''no,' showing that the predicate is asserted of the subjects severally, the predicate-verb must be in the singular. For here, the doctrine of contraction clearly applies; in other words, the predicate-verb is evidently applicable to every one of the subject-nominatives : as,
Every limb and feature appears with its appropriate grace. When subject-nominatives in the singular are emphatically distinguished, they belong to different propositions, and the verb follows in the singular: as,
Somewhat, and, in many cases, a great deal is put upon us. The same principle operates when the phrase ' as well as,' or the conjunction . but' is used : so,
Veracity, as well as justice, is to be our rule. 125.—II. Cases where the conjunction or or nor is used.
Where the connective or' or ' nor' is used, the whole sentence really involves distinct propositions. Hence, if the subject nominatives are in the singular, the verb must be in the singular: as,