Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm trying to find out whether I should use a singular or plural verb when there are multiple gerunds as the subject of the sentence.

For example:

Running the correct course and keeping a steady pace are/is necessary in order to win.

With either one of these by itself, "is" would be correct:

Running the correct course is necessary in order to win.

Keeping a steady pace is necessary in order to win.

With both gerunds combined, I can't seem to figure out whether the verb should stay singular since each phrase is singular, or if it should become plural since there are two connected by "and".

If we just treat the gerunds as regular nouns, then obviously it would become "are", but I'm not sure if gerunds have the exact same rules as regular nouns.

I know that if the sentence was:

Running the correct course and keeping a steady pace are both necessary.

That "are" would be correct, but without the "both" it sounds incorrect to me.

Does anyone know the official rule here?

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

My opinion: plural except in a special case (see below). The only explicit statements I've found to corroborate my opinion are on Answers.com regarding subject/verb agreement and a chat board for college students, neither of which strikes me as particularly authoritative. Nothing I can find indicates that anything other than a plural is appropriate when the subject of the sentence is two of anything conjoined by "and," including two gerunds.

Special case: gerunds that go together to form a unit of activity: drinking and driving, or texting and driving, etc. In those cases, when the point is the combined act, then a singular is nearly always used. Now that I think about it, the singular or plural helps differentiate: "walking and chewing gum is a skill mastered by most people" versus "walking and chewing gum are physically active tasks, thinking is not, but all three burn calories."

share|improve this answer
1  
Yes. Although gerunds don't behave exactly like 'ordinary' nouns in all situations - in fact -ing-forms are idiosyncratic (which renders their analysis, classification and naming difficult) - here, logic prevails. I'm not sure 'walking and chewing gum' is (!) sufficiently unitary to warrant singular concord here - I'd use a wh-clause. However, 'ducking and diving' works. 'Bacon and eggs is my favourite breakfast, but, at the moment, bacon and eggs are rather expensive' is a nice illustration of logical concord. –  Edwin Ashworth Jun 10 '13 at 11:15

This is supplementary to @jbeldock's answer & @EdwinAshworth's comment, picking up on the combined requirement of both actions being necessary. I also appreciate that it is not primarily an answer to the original question, but it raises what seem to me to some interesting issues around the subject. (I'm illustrating the points, but have not sought to analyse them.)

If one were to say:

Running the correct course and keeping a steady pace is necessary in order to win.

with the emphasis on the word and, I would say that - following the answer and comment mentioned above - the singular verb is is correct.

Yet, as the OP illustrates, if one were to say - and mean - the same thing but including the word both:

Running the correct course and keeping a steady pace are both necessary ...

the plural verb is required.

But if one then reverses that expression into the passive, then the singular is required again:

It is necessary both to run the correct course and to keep a steady pace, in order to win.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

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