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What is the correct grammar for a sentence such as the following:

"If you or somebody you know is an experienced such-and-such, please contact us."

Vs.:

"If you or somebody you know are an experienced such-and-such, please contact us."

I primarily want to know which of "are" or "is" is the appropriate verb.

My hunch is that "you or somebody you know" can be substituted by a plural pronoun, which makes the verb "are"; but I am thrown off by "if somebody you know are" (which is wrong, I think - or at least it sounds wrong), and I don't know what the rule is.

There is also the rule that Telastyn states below - choose a verb as if one of the options was chosen. However, "you or somebody you know" is two singular options, but "are" is used with singular "you" while "is" is used with other singular subjects, and so they conflict. That's where my confusion lies (or is my confusion deeper -- are "you" and "somebody" actually subtly plural here?)

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marked as duplicate by tchrist, jwpat7, Mari-Lou A, aedia λ, phenry Jul 30 at 16:02

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Regarding improving the sentence: I'd argue against inviting people to apply on behalf of others. "We are looking for experienced such-and-so's. Contact us at <...>, or forward this opportunity to a friend." –  Jason M Jul 30 at 2:23
    
@JasonM That's a good point; the last half of that sentence was supposed to be an arbitrary example, but I guess it came out with a professional tone. If I were looking for somebody to contact me personally for something unrelated to business, e.g. "If you or anybody you know is good at making curtains, please let me know because I need new curtains," would you still be of the same opinion? –  Jason C Jul 30 at 2:30
    
@tchrist Hey thanks; so just making sure I understand how that is linked to this: By the rule of thumb you state there, "always use proximity with disjunction," that means that "is" is the correct verb here since it matches the latter subject, "somebody you know", correct? Even though both subjects are singular? –  Jason C Jul 30 at 3:20
    
(@tchrist Incidentally, does that also imply I am missing an "either", and should use "If either you or somebody you know ..." instead?) –  Jason C Jul 30 at 3:22
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I've seen a commercial which says "if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma…" and then I don't know the rest because the condition didn't apply. –  George Pompidou Jul 30 at 4:37

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The appropriate verb, formally, is is. If the subjects are a mix of singular and plural as in your example, then the verb agrees with the closest subject (after or).

"If you or somebody you know is an experienced such-and-such, please contact us."

Rule 3. The verb in an or, either/or, or neither/nor sentence agrees with the noun or pronoun closest to it.

Examples: Neither the plates nor the serving bowl goes on that shelf. Neither the serving bowl nor the plates go on that shelf.

Source

  1. When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is nearer the verb.

The boy or his friends run every day. His friends or the boy runs every day.

Source 2

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Is "you" plural in my example? That's something else I was unclear about. If not, does the proximity rule still apply? –  Jason C Jul 30 at 4:38
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@Jason C, Well, given the context, "you" is singular. This you is also called generic you. Both singular "you" and plural "you" however share the same verb agreement (for be: are, for run: run, etc.), although this is more of a case of a verb agreeing in person (first [I], second [you], or third [he, John], brackets are only singular). Regardless, the proximity rule still applies. –  Jasper Locke Jul 30 at 5:24

In general, the rule is that you interpret the conditional subjects as though one option is chosen:

Do you know if he or she is going to the park?
Do you know if the cats or dogs are going to the park?

I'm not sure what happens if the conditional mixes plurality. I would avoid it, but it sounds more natural (but still slightly odd) to use the plural form:

Do you know if the cats or the elephant are going to the park?
Do you know if the elephant or the cats are going to the park?
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Thanks; but what about the singular "you"? My understanding of the rule is what you said; "you or somebody you know" is two singular options, but "are" is used with singular "you" while "is" is used with other singular subjects, and so they conflict. That's where my confusion lies. –  Jason C Jul 30 at 3:14
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@jasonc - to me, 'is' seems more natural, but I've seen both and expect them both to be viable in casual English. In more formal/written scenarios I would rephrase the sentence to not mix pluralities with the conditional. –  Telastyn Jul 30 at 3:18

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