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Which of two following sentences is correct?

  1. Depending on whether a birth or a death occurs , we have...

  2. Depending on whether a birth or a death occur, we have...

Update I changed the title.

closed as off-topic by Kris, Edwin Ashworth, user66974, tchrist, Elliott Frisch Aug 3 '14 at 6:04

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    The plurality of the verb has nothing to do with "whether", but with whether the subject, "a birth or a death", is singular or plural. So see this question. – Peter Shor Aug 2 '14 at 13:14
  • Since "a birth or a death" is singular, one should use the singular form, right? – Sinusx Aug 2 '14 at 13:42
  • There is the possibility of 'occur' being used as subjunctive here, compare for example 'depending on whether he be a philosopher or a poet'; '... depending on whether he like ...'; '... depending on whether he make the All Blacks ...' [internet]. Perhaps subjunctive fanatics would demand it? – Edwin Ashworth Aug 2 '14 at 14:02
  • @Peter Shor Which question? – Edwin Ashworth Aug 2 '14 at 14:53
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is predicated (non-grammatical sense) on a false premise. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 2 '14 at 15:52
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OP's example #2 looks a bit unlikely, but in certain contexts it could be valid. As they say, it all depends on the "whether" - in this case, whether the two possibilities are...

1 A: a birth occurs, OR B: a death occurs
2 A: a birth or death occurs, OR B: neither of those things happens (happen??!!!)

If OP intends the second distinction, the plural verb form in #2 is fine.


I wouldn't have a problem with a hotel manager saying...

"It all depends on whether the King or Queen turn up - if not, we might be able to let you have the Royal Suite tonight"

In that context, the two possibilities referenced by whether are that either a senior royal arrives (and thus gets the best room in the house) or neither of them do (in which case you will get the accommodation upgrade).

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    ???Depending on whether a boy or a girl are born??? 'Depending on whether a boy or a girl is born' is the only non-subjunctive option. 'Depending on whether it's a boy or a girl that is born' and 'Depending on whether or not a boy or a girl is born' disambiguate. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 2 '14 at 13:57
  • @Edwin: I think by switching to a boy/girl being born you're changing the potential contexts in such a way that it's probably impossible to contemplate using the plural. But I'll edit... – FumbleFingers Aug 2 '14 at 14:14
  • 'whether A or B' always takes a verb agreeing in number with B, at least in traditional grammar. I've yet to see an authority licensing say 'It all depends on whether the King or Queen turn up'. 'Occur' here is, I'd say, a marginal usage corresponding to 'depending on whether a boy or a girl be born'. ie subjunctive, not plural indicative. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 2 '14 at 14:22
  • @Edwin: Call it "marginal" if you like. I'm perfectly happy with the plural verb form in OP's context provided the intended sense is what I set out. I'm blissfully unconcerned about any prescriptive grammar that tells me I shouldn't be happy with such usages, and I'm in no doubt that at least some other native speakers will agree with me. – FumbleFingers Aug 2 '14 at 14:25
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    People? Can you come up with some evidence, or are we descending into unsubstantiated opinion / hearsay? – Edwin Ashworth Aug 2 '14 at 14:55

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