2
  1. Corporations may not have a conscience, but they do have PR departments.
  2. Corporations may not have consciences, but they do have PR departments.
  3. Corporations may not have a conscience, but they do have a PR department.

#1 sounds correct to my ear, but it's inconsistent. #2 and #3 are consistent, but both sound very awkward to me.

  • 4
    There is no reason why the number of grammatical objects has to be the same across sentences—why would there be? Subjects and objects do not agree in English, and there’s nothing wrong with plural subjects having a singular object (as in this sentence). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 20 '14 at 16:26
1

The first may sound better, but it arguably is mistaken, since it implies a single (lack of) conscience across all corporations. This is not as evidently wrong as #3 (as JanusBahsJacquet points out), but it will grate on many ears. I would prefer A corporation may not have a conscience, but it does have a PR department. This fits better with what is clearly the origin of your sentence (conscious or otherwise); the rhetorical question of an eighteenth-century Lord Chancellor Did you ever expect a corporation to have a conscience, when it has no soul to be damned, and no arse * to be kicked?

*[usually rendered 'body' in law reports, particularly American ones]

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    Why is the asker’s first option “clearly mistaken”? It is no such thing! I quite agree that your rewrite is superior and clearer; but the only thing the asker’s version has against it is a certain lack of mellifluence. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 20 '14 at 16:43
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    @JanusBahsJacquet: It's not a grammatical error, but it does mean that all corporations share a single PR department, which I hazard was not OPs intention. – TimLymington Feb 20 '14 at 16:48
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    That would be the third one—the first option clearly says “departments”. If anything, it would indicate that all corporations share a (lack of a) single conscience, which is logically defensible enough—at least more so than with PR departments. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 20 '14 at 16:53
  • I normally skirt this problem altogether by rewriting the sentence, as @TimLymington has done here, but I was feeling curious. Every option seems to suffer from some degree of ambiguity. The intended meaning is that every corporation has exactly one PR department. "They have a PR department" could mean that they all share a single PR department, and "they have PR departments" could mean that they collectively have an indeterminate number of PR departments. – Blake Mulvihill Feb 20 '14 at 17:49
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When in doubt, just reword the sentence:

A corporation may not have a conscience, but it does have a PR department.

...or...

Corporations have PR Departments, and if you don't have a conscience, a PR department will do.

...or...

No corporation has a conscience. But all of them have PR departments.

Of the options you proposed, the one that sounds best to my ear (as a native speaker of American-English) is the second: Corporations may not have consciences, but they do have PR departments.

The clause "corporations may not have a conscience" implies one conscience shared across all corporations, which seems wrong. Each corporation would have its own conscience, just as each corporation would have its own PR department.

On the other hand, the following does sound right to my hear: Corporations may not answer to a god, but they do have PR departments. This implies one god shared across all corporations, which makes better sense.

0

There isn't any strict grammatical error in any of your three examples and the meaning of the sentence is perfectly clear.

However, I would hazard a guess that the word "consciences" is the sole reason the sentence sounds awkward. If you replace it with a synonym does sound better? Which of these three would you prefer?

  1. Corporations may not have a moral compass, but they do have PR departments.

  2. Corporations may not have moral compasses, but they do have PR departments.

  3. Corporations may not have a moral compass, but they do have a PR department.

0

Corporations may not have a conscience, but they do have PR departments is grammatically correct, and the one I'd use.

The second one is certainly equally grammatical, but it kind of grates on my ears to say that "corporations have consciences," as long as corporations share (or do not share) a "single" conscience.

As for the third one, it seems to imply that corporations share a single PR department, which obviously sounds pretty unlikely; whereas "corporations have PR departments" is logical insofar as every corporation has (or should have) a PR department.

For these reasons, I would go with #1.

-2

The third one, because it does the best job of isolating the agreement in each clause: in a collection of corporations, most may lack a conscience, yet each likely has one PR department.

The first one contains the suggestion that individual corporations have multiple PR departments. The second one implies that individual corporations might have multiple consciences.

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