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At first glance, sentence 1 below seems more correct because there are two subjects. However, something seems more natural about sentence 2. Maybe there is something abbreviated, elliptical, or adverbial in sentence 2.

In sentences of this structure, should the verb be singular or plural?

  1. Not only a book, but also a pencil are on the table

  2. Not only a book, but also a pencil is on the table.

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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The correct word should be is.

You wouldn't normally say "a book are on the table" or "a pencil are on the table". Since you did not make a list of nouns or use any plural nouns, the verb should remain singular.

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Thank you for your comment. So the following would also be singular? "A book, and also a pencil, is on the table." "John, and also Bob, is in the room." Seems like those cases would require “are”? –  curious-proofreader Apr 24 '13 at 5:08
Yes, they both would use "are", as you made a list of nouns (book and pencil, John and Bob). –  RandomDuck.NET Apr 24 '13 at 22:46
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Regarding your second question, you have now changed the focus from singular to plural.

In your first example it was "Not only X, but also a Y is on the table." The focus is on Y. But in your second example it is "An X, and also a Y, are on the table." The focus is on X+Y.

So yes, in that situation, "are" is the correct word to use.

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