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.

In a complex sentence with two subjects, each taking separate actions, the second subject is item (singular), which I want to amend to item(s) with a parenthetical s.

How do I direct the rest of the action? Do I say was (were), or do I just say one of them (either was or were), or what?

Here's the sentence I'm trying to write:

Of the women who specified where their favorite item(s) was purchased.

share|improve this question
1  
In all such cases, you rephrase the sentence. –  Kris May 16 '12 at 18:45
1  
I would strongly advise avoiding such a thing if at all possible; it’s clumsy and doesn’t look at all good. Try rewording so it isn’t needed. At worst, say "item or items", but even that is suboptimal. –  tchrist May 16 '12 at 18:47

1 Answer 1

In your case, you can just use the plural:

where their favorite items were purchased

since this doesn't necessarily require that each woman have multiple favorite items. (Consider "their hearts", which doesn't require that each person have multiple hearts.)

If it's necessary, for whatever reason, to emphasize that some women might have specified only one favorite item, then you can write out both the singular and plural versions of the subject, conjoined with "or", and use the verb that agrees with the plural version:

where their favorite item or items were purchased

(By the way, I'm guessing you already realize this, but: your sentence is not a complete sentence. It seems to be just an adverbial.)

share|improve this answer
    
It's the title of a statistical document. Thanks for the help- I'll just say "their favorite items" –  OnWords May 16 '12 at 18:57

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.