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Over at stats.stackexchange we are having a minor kerfuffle over whether a title is using incorrect grammar. It has been edited and re-edited several times. It would be great to get some arbitration and a clear explanation.

The original title was "What questions is your data team hoping to answer?" which was edited to "What questions are your data team hoping to answer?", then edited back. See the question here.

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migrated from meta.english.stackexchange.com Aug 31 '12 at 15:49

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1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The subject of hoping is team; questions is a red herring, as can be seen by considering How many questions...? Is or are there would not depend on whether the answer is 'One' or 'more than one'; it depends on team.

So the question comes down to "Is team singular or plural?", and unfortunately, the answer is "It depends". This question and this one address the point; my own opinion, for what it's worth, is that it depends on whether, in the writer's view, the team act as a whole (like a football team, which scores goals collectively though one person is credited) or each question is answered by one person (like a cricket team, who score runs individually, and then total them for a team score).

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It would seem humorously apropos to say ...scores...score.... –  cardinal Aug 31 '12 at 14:37
N.B. It's not clear that "questions" is entirely a red herring. There is a well observed phenomenon of grammatical "leeching", whereby grammatical features that are "next to one another" linearly can affect speakers' perception of the sentence even though structurally you wouldn't expect them to be related. So you may actually find that overall, speakers find the plural verb more natural here in part because of the plural "questions". –  Neil Coffey Aug 31 '12 at 16:01
Déjà vu. –  tchrist Aug 31 '12 at 16:04
I think the position becomes clear when you make 'question' singular and 'team' plural. Surely not 'What question is your data teams hoping to answer?' –  Barrie England Aug 31 '12 at 16:09
@DavidWallace: I think the point here is general rather than specific; the example gets ever so slightly in the way. That said, most North Americans, e.g., would tend to say "Chelsea scores...", though they would also say "the Blues score...". It is telling that you chose "Chelsea...Liverpool" for your example and not "Liverpool...Chelsea". In the latter case, neither score nor scores would seem appropriate given the current start to the season. –  cardinal Sep 2 '12 at 16:23

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