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Using “are/is” after a list with “and/or”

My company's website recently received an E-mail stating there was a grammatical error in our greeting message. The sentence in question is as follows: "If you, a family member, or a friend is physically or mentally disabled, unable to work, and needs help navigating through the Social Security disability system, we are here to help you!" If you were only paying attention to the last item in the list then "is" would be okay, but since it's mixed in with "you" it gets a bit confusing.


1 Answer 1


With multiple subjects in disjunction, the closest one to the verb is the one which that verb agrees with.

The (X or Y or Z) verb

When Z is singular, it verbs, but when plural, they verb. Simple enough, really. :)

Only the closest subject counts when you have multiple subjects separated by or or nor.

  • Either my parents or I am going to pick you up.
  • Either I or my parents are going to pick you up.
  • 1
    Though this is merely the most common strategy, not a grammar rule. Anything sounds bad after a disjoined sg/pl subject, if number agreement is required. Simpler to start over. Or use a modal like should, can, may, etc, which require no agreement. Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 22:50
  • 1
    I agree it's a "mitigating strategy" rather than a "rule", but the fact that many people use it means we encounter the form often enough to accept it without wincing. Well, I do, most of the time. Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 1:02
  • Here are two other strategies (besides the conventional one in above Answer which tends to roll most naturally for minimal effort) to address this shortcoming of [English ]language that occur to me: 1}Identify both possibilities with a forward-slash (similar to 'and/or'), e.g. "is/am" corresponding from "he-she-it / I". In written form this is less awkward than when spoken (though not much more-so than "and-or"). 2}Re-phrase so that the syntax of the verb agrees with any possible being[s] of the argument. E.g., "will" xor "shall" instead of "am going to". This does subtly alter the semantics.
    – 11qq00
    Commented Sep 1, 2021 at 3:12

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