But what is most important for our purposes is that these changes were the signal for the resumption of historical debate on a grand scale, of the kind that had been suspended or driven underground during the reign of Louis XIV. (The French Idea of Revolution ed. by Dale Van Kley: 203)

I am interested in the expression "these changes were the signal". Shouldn't every change be a signal, so that there are many signals? Why use the singular form? Because all these changes together form a signal, and one or two just cannot signify that there is a resumption of that debate?

1 Answer 1


A verb agrees with its subject, not its complement, not even in copulas.

His injuries that day were the start of his decline.

These ideas are a fresh new way of looking at the problem.

My parents are the only reason I bother to go home for Christmas anymore.

  • What about 'The start of his decline was/were his injuries.' Which then? Does plural always take precedence?
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 14, 2013 at 15:12
  • @Mitch Your example should read “The start of his decline was his injuries”. Whittle it down to “start was” — get it? So it is not that “plural takes precedence”; rather and as déjà dit, the verb always agrees in grammatical number with its subject not with its complement.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 14, 2013 at 15:44
  • Guys guys guys, there's a question for that. And more questions still linked from there. As far as this question here is concerned, I think the answer is pretty sufficient.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Nov 14, 2013 at 16:06

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