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This question already has an answer here:

I have a question about this sentence:

The only thing he feared more than the wolves were the swirling buzzards.

I believe it to be correct, but someone suggested that the "were" should be changed to "was".

Which one is correct?

marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Apr 21 '14 at 13:26

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    A verb agrees with its subject. – tchrist Apr 21 '14 at 13:09
  • A verb agrees with its subject, but there's also notional agreement. So both variants can be found in the wild. This question, as well as many related questions, have been asked many times before, see e.g. here, here, here, and the many related questions linked from these. – RegDwigнt Apr 21 '14 at 13:26
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    Your example seems to be in the form of a copular clause with a plural predicative complement ("the swirling buzzards"). This can often make the selection of the main verb troublesome ("was" vs "were"). And often, the surrounding context and the register will be strong factors. Notional concord and proximity concord are often strong factors. Those types of factors often override formal "grammatical" concord in actual usage. I did a quick skim of the linked to threads, and it doesn't seem to me that any of them would be an answer to your question. Sorry for your experience. :( – F.E. Apr 21 '14 at 19:33
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    More info, in case you're interested: If this is for school, then you have to write it the way they want it (probably with "grammatical" concord). But if this is for fiction, then it is possible the version of "were" could be the more preferred. First of all, your example is in the form of a specifying copular clause: one part defines a variable, the other part provides a value. In general, either the variable or the value can be subject. In your example: "the only thing he feared more than the wolves" is the variable, while "were the swirling buzzards" is the value. A writer might have . . . – F.E. Apr 21 '14 at 20:55
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    A writer might have first considered the example: "[The swirling buzzards] were [the only thing he feared more than the wolves]", but wanted to put the stuff about the swirling buzzards at the end of the sentence for emphasis. And so the writer switched the two parts--subject-dependent inversion--"[The only thing he feared more than the wolves] were [the swirling buzzards]" and so would consider the 2nd part to be the subject. And so, the writer would not consider there to be any problem with subject-verb agreement. Thus, a reasonable argument that the original is grammatical. :) – F.E. Apr 21 '14 at 21:03
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The only thing he feared more than the wolves were the swirling buzzards.

in this sentence, was would be correct auxiliary verb because the only thing is a Singular.

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