2
  1. Is the violence and the abuse the reason you ran away home?
  2. Are the violence and the abuse the reasons you ran away from home?
  3. Is the violence and the abuse the reasons you ran away home?
  4. Are the violence and the abuse the reason you ran away from home?

Just going from the sound of it, I would probably say #1. But from a grammatical point of view I feel compelled to go with 2. Would I be correct?

  • Have you tried asking on English Language Learners? – Kris Jan 25 '14 at 5:58
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    1 is the correct sentence in the given context. Semantics and logic determine how a sentence is parsed and, thereafter comes grammar. [Is] [the violence and the abuse] [the reason] [you ran away home]? – Kris Jan 25 '14 at 6:01
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    Are 'violence' and 'abuse' disjoint? If not, this is tautological. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 25 '14 at 7:59
  • @Kris: If the second the were omitted (and from inserted) I would accept your view. At present this is a simple singular-plural confusion. – TimLymington Jan 25 '14 at 10:55
  • @TimLymington I did mention 'in the given context' -- the sentence is such as to suggest a causative factor that could be a thing or a group of things. After all, violence and abuse are so closely related, Edwin Ashworth asks if they are disjoint. – Kris Jan 25 '14 at 14:35
1
  1. Is the violence and the abuse the reason you ran away home?

  2. Are the violence and the abuse the reasons you ran away from home?

  3. Is the violence and the abuse the reasons you ran away home?

  4. Are the violence and the abuse the reason you ran away from home?

1, 2 and 4 are grammatically correct but I would normally choose (1).

The sentences are all slightly jarring because the "running away from home" took place in the past but the reason for doing so is stated in the present tense. That would be fine if what is described in present tense is something constant: "Is the Sun rising from the East the reason you slept facing in that direction." Our sentence implies that the violence and abuse is something constant and still present (The Sun rises from the East). However, if the subject ran away from home to escape the violence and abuse, it presumably is no longer taking place...!

In English, there is generally subject verb agreement in copulas and the predicate object is normally not considered. Things get a bit more complicated when copula is inverted: "These photos were the cause of the riot" -> "The cause for the riot were these photos" or "The cause for the riot was these photos". Here, the first choice is preferred because we can sense the verb agreement with the subject of the original uninverted form.

(1) is grammatical because it treats the "violence and abuse" as a single logical entity bound inextricably together as a single condition, which is the reason for the escape. You might want to rewrite this as "Was the violence and abuse the reasons you ran away from home?". (4) is similarly reasonable by considering two separate entities "the violence and the abuse" as a plural subject which nevertheless combine as a single explanation for the escape from home. (2) would make more sense if the "violence and abuse" were two separate unrelated reasons. Were the violence and the bad weather the reasons you ran away from home? As it is, it sounds slightly pedantic.

0

Usually, in an equative statements (The x is/are the y), the first noun phrase (the x) governs agreement. So, you can say either of the following:

The violence and the abuse are (*is) the reason I ran away

The violence and the abuse are (*is) the reasons I ran away

However, speakers can find number mismatches jarring, as in the first example. This is a rather superficial effect, to do with adjacency, and can be amerliorated by inserting material be are and the following singular noun phrase:

The violence and the abuse are, it goes without saying, the reason I ran away.

Once you know what the correct form of the statement is, you form the question just by fronting be. Hence:

Are the violence and the abuse the reason you ran away?

Are the violence and the abuse the reasons you ran away?

  • 2
    There are other ways to look at and understand the sentence, and to parse. – Kris Jan 25 '14 at 6:02
  • Are you alluding to information structure (focus, topic, etc)? I thought about adding something about that, but I judged that, without any indication that the questioner was concerned with these, they would only confuse the matter. – Daniel Harbour Jan 26 '14 at 0:27
  • No. I meant considering 'the violence and the abuse' as a single unit. Hope that's clear. – Kris Jan 26 '14 at 7:25
  • Can you say The violence and the abuse is the best and the worst things in the novel? – Daniel Harbour Jan 27 '14 at 3:24
  • No. That's nothing to do with this in any case. – Kris Jan 27 '14 at 6:47

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