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Which of the following sentences (1, 2, both, neither) is acceptable?

  1. He as well as they are in the wrong.
  2. He as well as they is in the wrong.

Reopen note:

Two things are troublesome about this. Although some usage guides say that singular verb forms should be used here, the sentence above sounds extremely awkward with a singular verb form. Secondly, there seem to be many examples around where this "rule" prescribed by these guides isn't followed. Is as well as definitely parenthetical here?

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    You could probably ask this & similar Qs. on English Language Learners – Kris Jun 1 '14 at 5:46
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    @Rybread What commonly available references can be used to answer this question? – Araucaria Jun 2 '14 at 13:52
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    Please never just ask “Which is correct?” It shows no effort on your part, and gives us nothing to go on. As the Help Center says in its “How to ask a good question” section: “Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and above all, it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!” Thank you. – tchrist Jul 4 '14 at 2:00
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    Related question, “X as well as Y” ; will this be followed by singular verb or plural verb?. – user140086 Jan 14 '16 at 12:15
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    @Araucaria You know I am not a mod. I just posted it as it is a related question. NOW (preposition) I realize how tough the job is for moderators. :-) – user140086 Jan 14 '16 at 17:04
10

Which of the following sentences is correct?

  1. He as well as they are in the wrong.

  2. He as well as they is in the wrong.

Sometimes the expression "as well as" behaves like the coordinator and, and sometimes it doesn't.

In your example(s)--and because delimiting commas aren't used--perhaps the preferred interpretation could be that the expression "as well as" is behaving as the coordinator and. And so, perhaps your version #1 could be the more natural one:

    1. He as well as they are in the wrong.

Here, the plural verb "are" agrees in number to the notional plural subject. Compare to "He as well as she are in the wrong", "Tom as well as Sue are in the wrong".

A decent usage dictionary will usually have info related to this topic. For instance, in my copy of the Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage, it has the entry "as well as" on pages 101-2, where it discusses the coordinator usage of that expression.

For related info from a vetted grammar source, there's the 2002 CGEL, pages 1316-7:

As well as

. . . There is also an idiomatic use meaning approximately "and, in addition to", illustrated in:

[70]

  • i. a. She [means what she says] [as well as says what she means].

  • i. b. [Abstraction] [as well as impressionism] were Russian inventions.

  • i. c. [Both increasing ewe liveweight,] [as well as liveweight at mating,] influence ovulation rate and lambing performance.

. . .

In [i] as well as behaves like the coordinator and. In [i.a] it links two finite VPs, a property characteristic of coordinators: cf. property (c) of &2.1. . . .

In [i.b] the form were indicates that the subject NP is plural, just like abstraction and impressionism.

And in [i.c] we have not only such plural agreement, but also a correlative pairing of both with as well as instead of the usual and.

In CGEL, there are also examples of singular verb usage, e.g. [70.ii.a] "Beauty as well as love is redemptive."

In conclusion, the answer probably comes down to whichever version you prefer, which could come down to the context, and/or the style guide of the publisher.

Note that CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL).

  • Apologies for the edit (it was more a suggestion) - I didn't realize it went straight through without further approval. – njboot Jun 1 '14 at 7:37
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    @njboot Okay :) -- The reason why I'm now in the habit of copying part (or all) of the OP's post is that often the OP's post will, er, change in the near future. Also, if a person is reading the thread from the top on down, it makes it easier on that person, especially since I explicitly refer to some of the OP's examples by number. – F.E. Jun 1 '14 at 7:42
  • Nice post. Do you think it's easier to use CaGEL for Huddleston & Pullum (2002) and CGEL for Quirk et al (1985)? I'm sometimes a bit unsure when reading other posts which they're referring to. Obviously it's clear in your case because you use the dates (and the full title!).. – Araucaria Jun 1 '14 at 10:02
  • @Araucaria As to the 2002 CGEL vs the older 1985 CGEL, I tend to nowadays use the published dates to resolve the ambiguity. But if I see a mere "CGEL", then I default to assuming that it's the more recent 2002 CGEL--unless context indicates otherwise. The 2002 CGEL has been out for more than a decade now, and so, I'd assume that it'll probably be the first overall/general grammar reference source that'll be first used. The Quirk et al. CGEL was published in 1985, which is almost 30 years ago now--though I still use it as a grammar reference too. Both CGEL's are essential and useful. – F.E. Jun 1 '14 at 16:16
  • Just rereading your post and it made me think. I've just been writing an answer for a (blocked) question about subject-dependent inversion. It was quite interesting because, while I was experimenting with it, the inversion seemed to affect the acceptability of the agreement of the verb with the alternative conjuncts so that it seemed preferable for the verb to agree with the first conjunct not the second if there was a difference in number. (If one decided not to take the two conjuncts as a notional plural subject that is.) – Araucaria Jun 1 '14 at 16:50
2

The correct sentence is:

He, as well as they, is in the wrong.

Why? If you use a connecting phrase other than “and,” the subjects are not compounded. The first subject dictates subject-verb agreement.

He [the main subject I'm talking about], as well as they [the secondary subject I'm mentioning], is [singular verb agreeing with principle subject] in the wrong.

If you replace "as well as" with "and," however, the plural form is required for subject-verb agreement.

He and they are in the wrong.

  • 'If you use a connecting phrase other than “and,” the subjects are not compounded.' Why this difference in behaviour though? And have you a reference backing up your statement? – Edwin Ashworth Jun 25 '17 at 14:28
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I'm actually really uncomfortable with "as well as they". It makes my teeth tingle.
This is relevant because it changes what you might consider the right answer.

The focus of the sentence is "he" with a prepositional comparison to "them", but "they" is used and that's nominative. I know English doesn't have a formal preposition case but Germanically-speaking, we tend to defer to genitive, dative, or accusative cases.

So if you were to hold a gun to my head, and told me to make this sentence work, the best I could offer would be:

He, as well as them, is in the wrong

But unless we're being really perverse, we could just nuke it from orbit and say something that doesn't sound like somebody trying to bend English to its limits:

[Just] As they are, he is in the wrong

protected by tchrist Dec 21 '17 at 14:48

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