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I'm writing a research paper with several classmates for school. However, there's a sentence that we, as well as others who have reviewed our paper, disagree with on how to write. Which sentence is more proper, grammatically?

Yet, alcohol usage and abuse still continue.

Yet, alcohol usage and abuse still continues.

I realize that this is probably a trivial question, but I would appreciate any help nonetheless.

  • Since the subject is plural, so should the verb be...... I vote for the first sentence. – Gary's Student May 1 '14 at 1:13
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    It depends on whether you consider the use and abuse of alcohol as a single entity, a unitary subject; or whether you think of them as two separate subjects. Rephrasing a little to add clarity: “Alcohol and abuse is the biggest obstacle in their relationship” vs. “Alcohol and abuse are major social issues often faced in the area”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 1 '14 at 1:22
  • That's an interesting distinction, I haven't thought about it that way. – gengkev May 1 '14 at 1:30
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Your comment would work as a (short) answer. – snailboat May 1 '14 at 1:31
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Try more natural pairings. Winning and losing isn’t all there is to the game. —— Peanut butter and jelly is my favorite sandwich. —— My lord and husband is coming home for dinner tonight. —— Time and tide waits for no man. All perfectly normal. (Well, provided you consider time and tide the same thing, as they were in the original before being reänalysed into confusion.) – tchrist May 14 '14 at 20:59
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My impression is that alcohol use and alcohol abuse are overlapping but hardly coextensive entities. Consequently I would revise your sentence to say something along the lines of

Yet alcohol use and abuse remain extremely common.

In making this recommendation, I don't deny that cases may arise in which a singular verb works better than a plural verb with a subject that looks plural but is understood as a unitary thing. For example,

Cutting and pasting in Word is a simple procedure.

sounds far better to me than either

Cutting and pasting in Word are a simple procedure.

or

Cutting and pasting in Word are simple procedures.

because I understand cutting and pasting to be two parts of a single procedure in Word, not two separate procedures that often occur in tandem.

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The first one is obviously correct. The verb should be plural because the subject is plural. Not only does the second one sound extremely awkward, it also implies that only the abuse continues whilst the usage of alcohol isn't explained. It seems to me that you have spent too much time contemplating this trivial question. Don't get too caught up.

  • I see what you mean. We'll probably just reword the sentence instead, but thanks anyway! – gengkev May 1 '14 at 1:31

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