English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

This question already has an answer here:

Which one is the correct one?

I had no idea San Diego (and its surrounding areas) is that crowded.


I had no idea San Diego (and its surrounding areas) are that crowded.

And would the answer be different if I used commas instead of the two parentheses?

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by Andrew Leach, JLG, tchrist, MετάEd, Hellion Feb 28 '13 at 15:26

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

This question is very similar to Changing plurality in parentheses -- does that question give any pointers? – Andrew Leach Feb 28 '13 at 8:21
I think it does. It seems that the first sentence is the correct one. I agree with the 'uncomfortable sound' though. The second sentence sounds much more comfortable, since the text in the parentheses will virtually always be read :). Maybe I need to rephrase. Would replacing the parentheses with commas make any difference? Thank you for the link. – Roronoa Zoro Feb 28 '13 at 8:31
No, because all the commas do is define a parenthetical phrase. That particular sentence doesn't really need brackets or commas: just run it all together [and use are]. – Andrew Leach Feb 28 '13 at 8:34
Thanks. My intention was to stress more on the actually city San Diego, rather than the city and its surrounding areas. But I will probably go with your suggestion. Thank you. – Roronoa Zoro Feb 28 '13 at 8:36
Roronoa: this problem has been buzzing round my bonnet. (1) I agree that the use of brackets gives a different emphasis, and rewrites without them lose that. (2) Even though parentheses are supposed to be syntactically independent of the matrix sentence, I agree with you that I had no idea San Diego (and its surrounding areas) is that crowded. sounds 'off'. (3) A rewrite preserving the 'afterthought' nuance (assuming that is the purpose of the use of the parenthesis) is: I had no idea that San Diego was that crowded (as, apparently, are its surrounding areas). – Edwin Ashworth Mar 1 '13 at 9:22
up vote 1 down vote accepted

As Andrew has said in his comment, you don’t need brackets here. By using them you create an unnecessary difficulty, and you don’t really need to replace them with commas. San Diego and its surrounding areas is a plural subject, so it needs a plural verb.

What you also need is the verb in a different tense. The second clause in the sentence is, in functional grammar terms, a projected clause. That is, it is similar to indirect speech, in which present tenses normally become past tenses. All these considerations point to writing the sentence as:

I had no idea San Diego and its surrounding areas were that crowded.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.