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I remember somebody correcting me once when I said, "Two and two makes four", since the conjunction and would imply the use of a plural verb. They would prefer I said:

Two and two make four.

I've been thinking about it and wondering if one or the other is correct, or if both are. It would seem that using the plural verb is grammatical. However, I've heard the singular verb being used more often and feel that it is correct. Is there some exception about using the singular verb in logical statements and mathematical formulae?

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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Singular and plural are both correct.

The singular form is also used because "two and two" is an arithmetic formula. The verb agreement in that case is with the formula as a single entity.

  • Two and two makes four.

  • Two plus two is four.

  • Four times four divided by two is
    eight.

In your example in particular, Google indicates that the plural form occurs more often:

"two plus two make four" = 353K results
"two plus two makes four" = 77K results
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Thanks. This seems to be generally accepted. I just wanted to add that I finally found this referred to in Merriam Webster's dictionary of usage. It's listed under "Two and two" and I went looking for it under and and subject-verb agreement and compound subject:-). It also says that both ways of writing it are acceptable. Mathematical texts tend to use the singular verb more often, and other written material seems to use the plural verb more often. –  Tragicomic Jan 19 '11 at 10:44
    
This result from Google is useless. All it shows is that people who tend to use "make" are more likely to use the plural. I don't find this surprising at all as using "make" strikes me are either old-timey-er or more British. In both cases, the plural would seem more likely. Look up "two and two is four" are you get 1.06M results! –  ThePopMachine Apr 15 '12 at 4:55
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"I know that two and two make four—& should be glad to prove it too if I could—though I must say if by any sort of process I could convert 2 & 2 into five it would give me much greater pleasure."
George Gordon Noel Byron.

"When speculation has done its worst, two and two still make four."
Samuel Johnson.

"Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows."
George Orwell.

Both "make" and "makes" are correct usages; I prefer saying "two and two make four" — I find it more natural because when I use this idiom in a sentence, I am not talking math!
(When I'm talking math, I prefer using the term "plus": "two plus two is three point one four".)

And I love patterns (when they make sense)!

Observe the pattern:

  • John makes money.
  • Jane makes money.
  • John and Jane make money.
  • Two and two make four.
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"Freedom is to say that two and two makes four."— Winston in George Orwell's 1984. :D –  Tragicomic Jan 17 '11 at 12:04
    
@Tragicomic: You got that wrong! :) "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows." - George Orwell –  Sid Jan 17 '11 at 12:17
    
@iamsid: :-) Yeah, got that from the answer. Thanks. I just couldn't stop myself from using that quote, since it makes sense in more ways than one here. –  Tragicomic Jan 17 '11 at 12:18
    
@iamsid: Aah.. That's why you shouldn't trust Google:-( Can I quote Artemis Fowl instead?:-) –  Tragicomic Jan 17 '11 at 12:26
    
@Tragicomic: Noooo! :) –  Sid Jan 17 '11 at 12:29
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protected by Jasper Loy Apr 13 '12 at 7:23

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