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1) "The book 'The Three Musketeers' is a wonderful example of..." Here we have a proper noun, a title that happens to end in a plural, and I have no sense that the verb should be plural. "Musketeers"/is seems proper/natural/correct, and 'are' not at all.

However, such certainty begins to wane in other examples: 2) "'The Heidi Chronicles' is a wonderful example of..." doesn't completely shake my confidence, but it moves the needle, at least a little bit. But, practically speaking, I wouldn't have a second thought about correcting a student who used 'are' instead of 'is'.

Here's the one that really bothers me: 3a) " 'The Basement Tapes' are a wonderful example of..." I don't think this sounds any less proper/natural/correct than 3b) " 'The Basement Tapes' is..." In fact, 3a seems less awkward than 3b.

Why?

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If you're to speak/write English well, you'll need to trust that certain constructions are correct, though your intuition currently causes you to feel differently. One that you should definitely trust is subject-verb agreement. To follow this rule, you need to be aware of what the subject of the sentence actually is.

"The book 'The Three Musketeers' is a wonderful example of.. is actually

The book is a wonderful example of.. (or The Three Musketeers is a wonderful example of...)

If you say "'The Three Musketeers' are...", you're talking about Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.

The same is true of all the other plural proper noun titles.

  • The Basement Tapes is a great collection...
  • The Basketball Diaries is a harrowing look at drug addiction...

Perhaps you are having doubts because you are identifying the subject incorrectly. The Basketball Diaries is a movie (singular), not a set of diaries. The Basement Tapes is an album (a singular noun which happens to be a collective noun as well), not a group of individual tapes. (The individual songs on an album are tracks.)

The Basketball Diaries and Trainspotting are powerful movies dealing with drug addiction.

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    Excellent explanation. Meanwhile, I quite often hear confusion even among NPR journalists regarding the true number of the subject of a sentence. (Even professional communicators have their weak spots. :-) – Erik Kowal May 6 '14 at 21:07
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    Yes. Another example: 'The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven high fantasy novels by author C.S. Lewis.' [Wikipedia]. And a related one: He was a servant of He who must not be named. – Edwin Ashworth May 6 '14 at 21:32

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