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Which is the correct form of an attribute related to multiple entities? For example, which is the correct form of position?

The position of the circle and of the square is wrong.

The positions of the circle and of the square are wrong.

I could interpret it in the following ways:

  • each shape has only one position, so use the singular
  • each shape has only one position, but since we have multiple shapes use the plural
  • multiple shapes of a collective entity (circle + square), use the plural

edit: assuming the shapes don't share the same position.

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up vote 0 down vote accepted

If the circle and the square are 2-dimensional and 100% overlapping, they occupy the same space and have only one position, so the singular should be used.

  • *The circle and the square is in the wrong position. [asterisk = ungrammatical]
    The circle and the square are in the wrong position. [grammatical]

Otherwise, the circle and the square have two different positions and the plural should be used.

  • *Mr X's head and Mr Y's head is in the wrong positions.
    Mr X's head and Mr Y's head are in the wrong positions.

Perhaps, as well, position should be replaced with place simply because position is ambiguous.

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does this hold also if I want to use the form X of A and of B are ... instead of X of A and X of B are... – Batsu Apr 4 '13 at 15:31
@Batsu: It should hold. Position and form are essentially no different, unless it's normal for A & B to have the same form Y & they both have the same form Z. If they have have different forms, L & M, then it should be "The forms of A & B are incorrect. (A has L form but should have R form & B has M form but should have S form) OR (A & B both have Z form, but A should have R form & B should have S form) OR (A has L form & B has M form, but both should have Y form)." – user21497 Apr 4 '13 at 16:24
@Bill In the examples you provided, there are no discernible differences between the sentences (ungrammatical and grammatical) describing the objects sharing the same overlapping space and and the respective sentences for the objects in two different positions. – Cmillz Apr 4 '13 at 16:35
@Cmillz: Isn't the difference in the copula (is vs. are) a discernable difference? – user21497 Apr 4 '13 at 17:11
@Bill: In both examples, it is grammatically correct to use "are" as opposed to "is", however between the top two examples and the bottom two, there is no difference. Sorry if I wasn't clear in the original post - Shouldn't "position" be plural in the second grammatical example? "Otherwise... the plural should be used." – Cmillz Apr 4 '13 at 17:24

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