I'm trying to find out whether I should use a singular or plural verb when there are multiple gerunds as the subject of the sentence.

For example:

Running the correct course and keeping a steady pace are/is necessary in order to win.

With either one of these by itself, "is" would be correct:

Running the correct course is necessary in order to win.

Keeping a steady pace is necessary in order to win.

With both gerunds combined, I can't seem to figure out whether the verb should stay singular since each phrase is singular, or if it should become plural since there are two connected by "and".

If we just treat the gerunds as regular nouns, then obviously it would become "are", but I'm not sure if gerunds have the exact same rules as regular nouns.

I know that if the sentence was:

Running the correct course and keeping a steady pace are both necessary.

That "are" would be correct, but without the "both" it sounds incorrect to me.

Does anyone know the official rule here?

  • 1
    Yes, but consider: Applying and removing makeup is easy. "are" sounds wrong here. But -- Applying makeup and removing makeup are easy. I don't think the "drinking and driving is" example holds here -- applying and removing makeup are separate activities. So what gives? – David Aug 7 '17 at 18:27

My opinion: plural except in a special case (see below). The only explicit statements I've found to corroborate my opinion are on Answers.com regarding subject/verb agreement and a chat board for college students, neither of which strikes me as particularly authoritative. Nothing I can find indicates that anything other than a plural is appropriate when the subject of the sentence is two of anything conjoined by "and," including two gerunds.

Special case: gerunds that go together to form a unit of activity: drinking and driving, or texting and driving, etc. In those cases, when the point is the combined act, then a singular is nearly always used. Now that I think about it, the singular or plural helps differentiate: "walking and chewing gum is a skill mastered by most people" versus "walking and chewing gum are physically active tasks, thinking is not, but all three burn calories."

  • 1
    Yes. Although gerunds don't behave exactly like 'ordinary' nouns in all situations - in fact -ing-forms are idiosyncratic (which renders their analysis, classification and naming difficult) - here, logic prevails. I'm not sure 'walking and chewing gum' is (!) sufficiently unitary to warrant singular concord here - I'd use a wh-clause. However, 'ducking and diving' works. 'Bacon and eggs is my favourite breakfast, but, at the moment, bacon and eggs are rather expensive' is a nice illustration of logical concord. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 10 '13 at 11:15
  • In my SAT practice book, it had the following sample question and you had to identify the error: "(A) Introducing new ideas and replacing (B) old ones (C) is always a highly controversial matter..." I marked C as the answer and the answer sheet said otherwise. – user3932000 Aug 1 '15 at 8:43
  • So, @user3932000, what did the answer sheet say?? – M-b Jun 29 '17 at 14:52

The gerunds here are acting as subjects.

Whenever "and" is used — the verb should be plural, aka "are" — the "both" is unnecessary and makes it redundant. This would be the same thing as

Pizza and Cake are delicious foods

but it's

Creating pizza and eating cake are good foods

The only exception is listed above, when the two gerunds act as one activity: "texting and driving is...", although that should really be "texting while driving", making while a preposition and driving an object of the preposition.


This is supplementary to @jbeldock's answer & @EdwinAshworth's comment, picking up on the combined requirement of both actions being necessary. I also appreciate that it is not primarily an answer to the original question, but it raises what seem to me to some interesting issues around the subject. (I'm illustrating the points, but have not sought to analyse them.)

If one were to say:

Running the correct course and keeping a steady pace is necessary in order to win.

with the emphasis on the word and, I would say that - following the answer and comment mentioned above - the singular verb is is correct.

Yet, as the OP illustrates, if one were to say - and mean - the same thing but including the word both:

Running the correct course and keeping a steady pace are both necessary ...

the plural verb is required.

But if one then reverses that expression into the passive, then the singular is required again:

It is necessary both to run the correct course and to keep a steady pace, in order to win.


It seems to me that whether we use a singular or plural verb after compound gerunds used as subjects depends on whether the activities are a combined act, or form a unit of activity, as stated above. However, when there is a plural component in the complement after the verb, like "both" or "all" or a plural noun, then the plural verb seems to be correct. If there is a singular noun, the singular verb seems to be correct.


Were I the writer I would opt for the plural "are" as "Running the correct course" and "keeping a steady pace" are effectively being used as nouns. however if they were conditional "Running the correct course while keeping a steady pace they become a single concept and "is" would be correct.

protected by tchrist Aug 7 '17 at 20:53

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