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Using “are/is” after a list with “and/or”

My company's website recently received an E-mail stating there was a grammatical error in our greeting message. The sentence in question is as follows: "If you, a family member, or a friend is physically or mentally disabled, unable to work, and needs help navigating through the Social Security disability system, we are here to help you!" If you were only paying attention to the last item in the list then "is" would be okay, but since it's mixed in with "you" it gets a bit confusing.

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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, MετάEd, Bill Franke, Kristina Lopez, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Jan 31 '13 at 18:32

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Google Ngrams favor "is" in "you or he is/are". So "is" seems to get the popular vote. –  Peter Shor Jan 30 '13 at 22:23
    

1 Answer 1

With multiple subjects in disjunction, the closest one to the verb is the one which that verb agrees with.

The (X or Y or Z) verb

When Z is singular, it verbs, but when plural, they verb. Simple enough, really. :)

Only the closest subject counts when you have multiple subjects separated by or or nor.

  • Either my parents or I am going to pick you up.
  • Either I or my parents are going to pick you up.
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Though this is merely the most common strategy, not a grammar rule. Anything sounds bad after a disjoined sg/pl subject, if number agreement is required. Simpler to start over. Or use a modal like should, can, may, etc, which require no agreement. –  John Lawler Jan 30 '13 at 22:50
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I agree it's a "mitigating strategy" rather than a "rule", but the fact that many people use it means we encounter the form often enough to accept it without wincing. Well, I do, most of the time. –  FumbleFingers Jan 31 '13 at 1:02

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