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

I have no idea which of these sentences is correct:

Technical analysis and debate are what matter.


Technical analysis and debate are what matters.

The first sounds right to me because it's similar to the simple sentence "Technical analysis and debate matter." But looking at the direct object alone, "what matters" sounds more correct than "what matter".

Both usages look pretty common on Google.

share|improve this question
I'm sure someone will disagree with me, but I think it depends on whether technical analysis and debate are considered to be one thing or two, which is not entirely clear from the context, despite the two nouns being separated by and. (I'm involved in technical analysis all the time, and it goes hand in hand with, and is not separable from, debate). I have a slight preference for matters, but then you'd have to say Technical analysis and debate is what matters. – Charl E Mar 2 at 17:39
up vote 11 down vote accepted

noun and noun are what matter.

Is the correct usage.

An easy way to break this down might be an examination of the use of is:

Drinking and driving is illegal


Drinking and driving are illegal

Drinking or driving separately are not illegal. Combined, however, it is illegal.

are is plural. is is singular.

As a combination of actions, you'd use is. In your case:

Technical Analysis and debate is what matters.

That would be a better comparison.

share|improve this answer
I think I get the is/are distinction. But what about matter/matters? Does that change depending on whether the subject is combined or separate? – Max Mar 2 at 18:16
yes. is what matters would be correct, is what matter would be wrong. It's all about the plurality/singularity of the subject – Hooper Mar 2 at 18:19

The second statement is incorrect grammatically, no matter which way you look at it.

If we consider "Technical analysis and debate" as one activity, the statement should be "Technical analysis and debate is what matters."

But if we consider "Technical analysis and debate" as two different activities, the first statement "Technical analysis and debate are what matter." should be used.

As a general rule, use a plural verb with two or more subjects when they are connected by and.

Example: A car and a bike are my means of transportation.

But note these exceptions:

Exceptions: Breaking and entering is against the law. The bed and breakfast was charming.

In those sentences, breaking and entering and bed and breakfast are compound nouns.


share|improve this answer
You say the second statement is incorrect, but then say it should be written as-is. Typo? – Max Mar 2 at 18:17

Your Answer


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.