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Singular or plural following a list

Which of the following are correct:

  • What are the primary cause and the primary consequence of the...
  • What is the primary cause and the primary consequence of the...
  • What is the primary cause and what is the primary consequence of the...

Is there a pithy clearly correct alternative?

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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, RegDwigнt Aug 31 '12 at 8:37

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3 Answers

As a statement the sentence would be The primary cause and the primary consequence of the ... are ... , and not The primary cause and the primary consequence of the ... is ... It follows that if the subject is to be coordinated, the question must be as in your first sentence. The only way you could make it shorter would be by writing it as the not altogether satisfactory What are the primary cause and consequence of the ...? Your third sentence is also grammatical, because each clause has a singular subject and a singular verb.

A singular verb is also possible when a coordinated subject is a notional singular, as in What is the primary cause and basis of the ...?

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Numbers 1 and 3 are both correct, because subjects and verbs are in agreement. Number 2 is incorrect, because the verb no longer agrees with the subject.

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Asked another way, the answer to question "X is the primary cause of...and Y is the primary consequence of...." seems to indicate "are" is the wrong choice. Please help me understand why you think otherwise. –  Jason Aug 31 '12 at 3:36
    
@Jason You can reverse them: “The primary cause and the the primary consequence are what we are going to discuss here today.” Notice how it is quite clear that it has to agree that way. This is similar to “Who are your mother and your father?” You cannot use *is with the plural subject there any more than you can with your question. –  tchrist Aug 31 '12 at 3:37
    
That doesn't convince me. The subject there is "things we are going to discuss today" which is clearly plural. But for one, I don't understand what the subject is that makes "are" the correct form of the verb "to be?" –  Jason Aug 31 '12 at 3:42
    
@Jason The wh-question words are never the actual subject in questions. “Where are your cat and your dog?” has to use are because it is a plural subject. Same with all the rest of them. “Who are you talking to?” because the subject is you. “What am I doing?” because the subject is I. –  tchrist Aug 31 '12 at 3:45
    
@Jason: Per my comment to the other answer, the singular verb form in your #2 implies a single thing which is both cause and consequence. It's grammatical, but doesn't mean what you intend. –  FumbleFingers Aug 31 '12 at 3:59
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What is the primary cause and the primary consequence of the...

Or:

What are the primary causes and primary consequences of the...

Or:

What are the primary causes and consequences of the...

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Your sentence one is out of agreement; that’s like asking “Who is your mother and your father?”, which is clearly ungrammatical. –  tchrist Aug 31 '12 at 3:40
    
Are two and three really correct? I'm asking for ONE primary cause and ONE primary consequence, but as you've phrased it appears to indicate I might be asking for multiple causes and multiple consequences. Can you explain why one is correct; I'm not convinced. –  Jason Aug 31 '12 at 3:40
    
If you only have one of each, you need to use "is". If not (i.e. if there are multiple causes and/or consequences), you need to use "are". –  gkrogers Aug 31 '12 at 3:42
    
@Jason His number 1 is wrong; his numbers 2 and 3 are right. –  tchrist Aug 31 '12 at 3:42
    
@gkrogers “Who *is your mother and your father?” –  tchrist Aug 31 '12 at 3:43
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