This is one thing I never really bothered looking into, but have always been unsure of.

punching, kicking, slapping or slashing [is/are] strictly prohibited

That's what I'm trying to determine. Let's say multiple of these specified actions can occur simultaneously. Is it proper to use "is" or "are"?

This is going to be used in a short legal notice.

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    I am no expert but "punching, kicking, slapping and slashing are strictly prohibited" sounds right. – user49404 Sep 26 '13 at 6:05
  • Yeah, I would think so too. But in legal documents, it always seems they're using "or" instead. It's quite confusing. – user52840 Sep 26 '13 at 6:10
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    Any punching, kicking, slapping or slashing is strictly prohibited – mplungjan Sep 26 '13 at 7:08
  • @mplungjan, sounds foolproof :) – user49404 Sep 26 '13 at 7:12

Punching, kicking, slapping and slashing is a coordinated subject requiring the plural verb are. When or replaces and, the case is different. In your example, it isn’t clear whether slashing is seen as an alternative to the other three actions, or whether each is an alternative. If just one of those actions performed on its own is strictly prohibited, then the single verb is might emphasise the fact. If it is only more than one committed together that is strictly prohibited, then you might want the plural.

You will see that the sentence as it stands is open to several interpretations. A legal document normally needs to eliminate any such ambiguity as far as possible. For that reason, I think the best advice would be for you to have the document drafted by someone who has qualifications and experience in this kind of work.

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    They can hardly argue about the meaning of: Each of the following is strictly prohibited: (a)punching; (b)kicking; (c)slapping; (d)slashing. // Each of the following is strictly prohibited: (a)punching; (b)kicking; (c)the sniffing or drinking of embalming fluid. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 26 '13 at 13:25

Converting my comment to answer, I suggest

Any punching, kicking, slapping or slashing is strictly prohibited

Since any is singular, you should be covered

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  • When you have a case like this, it's best to go with whichever sounds right. In this case, I agree, it is 'is'.But be careful about possible changes in meaning which could be imputed, as the previous answer explains. – user52780 Sep 26 '13 at 9:50
  • How would that influence choice in The set will contain one or more screwdriver/s? – Edwin Ashworth Sep 26 '13 at 9:57
  • @EdwinAshworth Huh? – mplungjan Sep 26 '13 at 10:00
  • The 'best to go with whichever sounds right' maxim is always very open to question. What sounds 65% right to me might not sound 65% right to you or Professor Pullum. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 26 '13 at 13:28

This is always a tricky subject, and there is never really a good, fully satisfying answer. So my recommendation would be a rephrasing. (Of course following Barrie's caveat -- I'm not a lawyer.)

How about:

Strictly prohibited: punching, kicking, slapping or slashing.

I am tempted to ask what the heck would need such a legal notice, but perhaps I'd rather not know!! Are biting, head butting and kneeing in the groin allowable? :-)

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