Can anyone tell me if I should use inspire or inspires in this phrase?

An extraordinary leader whose vision, values, integrity and boundless curiosity inspires all who follow in his footsteps.


You should use "inspire".

Don't be distracted by the fact that there's only one leader. The inspiration is being done by that leader's many fine qualities, which are obviously plural.

I assume you wouldn't have doubts about Two great leaders whose vision inspires all (if you do, try it again as Two great leaders whose shared vision inspires all).

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  • ok, thanks. My client wrote "inspires" but it seemed off to me. I appreciate the confirmation. – user6989 Apr 6 '11 at 3:02
  • I agree your answer is correct but it could be improved, I think, by deconstruct the sentence, stating the subject "vision, values, integrity and boundless curiosity", then the verb "inspire". And as other mentioned, it is an incomplete sentence. – Ricardo C Apr 9 '13 at 18:24
  • @Ricardo C: Technically speaking, OP's entire text is just a noun phrase - with no "subject" (or "verb") in the conventional "sentence deconstruction" sense. But all he asks about is whether inspire should be singular or plural - which is fully answered by pointing out that what does the inspiring is the qualities. I don't see any advantage in introducing the word "subject", to be honest. – FumbleFingers Apr 9 '13 at 18:52

There is a lot going on in this sentence but part of the problem is that it is a sentence fragment.

An extraordinary leader whose vision, values, integrity and boundless curiosity inspires all who follow in his footsteps.

If we trim out the list:

An extraordinary leader whose [list] inspires all who follow in his footsteps.

Then trim the extra clause and adjective:

A leader whose [list] inspires all.

This isn't a sentence. You need something else:

I am a leader whose [list] inspires all.

A leader whose [list] inspires all has arrived.

Once you have this in place you can ask about the inspiration. Since the inspiration is stemming from the list and not the leader you should follow the plurality of the [list]. If we stick a single word in there we can see why:

A leader whose horses inspire all has arrived.

A leader whose horse inspires all has arrived.

So, to actually answer your question, when using a list, always treat it as plural. See also: “My apples and orange are wrong”, specifically the accepted answer.

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  • The (eventual) last two sentences are a true if somewhat terse answer. The stuff before is irrelevant, frankly... Ladies and gentlemen... - THE PRESIDENT!!! That's a substantial utterance. Maybe not a formal sentence to you, but Hey! - OP says himself his example is a phrase. – FumbleFingers Apr 7 '11 at 22:29
  • @FumbleFingers: What? – MrHen Apr 7 '11 at 22:39
  • Well, you did spend well over 90% of your Answer space explaining why OP's example wasn't a sentence. All he wanted to know was the correct verb form in his example phrase. No 'fence, but... is that really how the system should operate? – FumbleFingers Apr 7 '11 at 22:49
  • @Fumble: I was partly addressing it feeling off, which was mentioned in a comment by the OP. Also, I like answers that are complete and go a few extra steps to help people browsing around the site in the future. You already dealt with the basic, no frills answer. My answer is just a perk. If you think it is wrong for the site, feel free to downvote it. It doesn't matter to me. – MrHen Apr 8 '11 at 2:47
  • I don't understand EL&U well enough yet to presume to downvote in a situation like this. Besides, I've seen enough of your posts to have great respect for your contributions in general. Plus I don't wish to seem too contentious here. In due course I hope to be part of debate on issues like this (in Meta, I suppose). I'd be very grateful for your input there, but these comment boxes aren't really a suitable medium. – FumbleFingers Apr 8 '11 at 2:59

User MrHen's superlative answer above decomposes and then anatomises the sentence, so I just focus on the question When can a singular verb be used for multiple subjects separated with 'and' ?

I find Brian A. Kelms's answer herein supernal, so thought to excerpt it here:

This kind of thing used to trip me up, too, as a subject with multiple nouns in it seems like it should always be plural. But that isn’t always the case. The way you group the items determines whether it’s a singular subject or a plural subject (and whether you’d use the plural verb 'have' or the singular 'has'). Let me explain.

Sentence subjects that have independent nouns connected by 'and' are plural, thus requiring plural verbs (such as 'have'). One trick to tell if the nouns are independent from each other is to divide the sentence into two sentences and see if the meaning stays the same.

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