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  1. My fish's native habitat is rice fields.

  2. My fish's native habitat are rice fields.

Which one is correct? I'm pretty sure it's the first, since 'is' modifies 'habitat,' but it still sounds weird...

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It may sound weird, but it is still correct. Singular nouns take singular verbs. In this case, the singular noun is habitat. Thus, is is the correct form of the verb to be in this case.

My fish's native habitat is rice fields.

To make it sound more natural, you could reverse the order thus:

Rice fields are my fish's native habitat.

  • Right, the second version would be natural. Note that adding a bit more detail with an article also solves the problem: "My fish's native habitat is the rice fields of Viet Nam." – The Raven Mar 24 '11 at 17:28
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    It sounds weirder still when you use a first-person pronoun as the predicate nominative and modify a singular subject with a prepositional phrase ending in a plural: The oldest of my siblings is I. Or perhaps A family of happy people is we. Actually, I'm not sure about that one. – JCooper Mar 24 '11 at 17:37
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    @JCooper For some reason those aren't so weird sounding to me. I guess it has to do with a couple years of grammar intense German. It's also easier because those sentences can be reversed and are clearly correct, and we can also get into Yoda-speak: The oldest of my siblings, I am. – emragins Mar 25 '11 at 16:18
  • Does it mean that when using is/are, it is simply the first subject that defines the number? (Or is the second "subject" not a subject, but an object?) – arik-so Jun 25 '12 at 8:10
  • @arik-so: Indeed, it is the subject that determines the verb form you use. It does not matter whether the object is singular or plural. – Jimi Oke Jul 7 '12 at 11:41
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Please advise, but Grammar Girl opines that the problem here is 'false attraction to a predicate noun'. I excerpt the fundaments:

Although this problem may seem complicated, it’s really not. It’s as simple as this: the verb agrees with the subject (2)***, not the predicate noun. - See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/verbs-sandwiched-between-singular-and-plural-nouns#sthash.y0KLwgtk.dpuf

Dorothy, don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain, meaning don’t be distracted by the predicate noun. One grammar source calls this problem “false attraction to a predicate noun” (3). - See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/verbs-sandwiched-between-singular-and-plural-nouns#sthash.y0KLwgtk.dpuf

***The (2) and (3) refer to external references on p 2 of 2 of Grammar Girl's article.

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