16

I live in Bangkok and on the intercom in the subway they constantly say Smoking, drinking and eating are not allowed. To me it sounds weird. I’d say Smoking, drinking and eating is not allowed.

Because you would normally say It’s not allowed to smoke, drink or eat.

Can someone explain what is the grammatically “correct” way to say this? And maybe explain why I find it so awkward.

  • 2
    Another equivalent- No eating, drinking or smoking allowed. – adityasrivastav Dec 2 '14 at 15:16
  • Yeah to me that sentence makes sense. The "are" not so much. Maybe because it's normally phrased differently. – dan-klasson Dec 2 '14 at 15:18
  • 1
    Compare “Drinking and drinking is forbidden” with “Drinking and driving are forbidden.” The normal signage would read “No smoking, drinking, or eating” — or for the lexically challenged, “🚭 🍸⃠ 🍔⃠”. – tchrist Dec 2 '14 at 16:10
  • 1
    In summary, 'it' is singular while 'eating, drinking, and eating' is a group of three things, so plural verbs would generally be appropriate for the latter. – reirab Dec 2 '14 at 17:16
33

Smoking, drinking and eating is not allowed

would mean that if you try to smoke, drink and eat all at the same time, as one activity (good luck with that!), then that activity is not allowed.

But smoking, drinking or eating (as separate activities) would be ok.

Smoking, drinking and eating are not allowed

means that neither smoking, nor drinking, nor eating, is allowed. Collectively they are not allowed.

So the subway authorities probably do intend the latter meaning, although I'm just guessing.

Let's do a little research:

Bangkok subway rules

Aha. Neither smoking nor eating nor drinking is allowed. All three of them are forbidden.

Littering is also forbidden (littering is one action - use 'is'), as are large belongings (the belongings themselves are plural - use 'are').

The possession of balloons is also forbidden (the balloons themselves are plural but 'possession' is a single action - use 'is').

It seems particularly harsh to completely forbid 'sitting'. Is this a mistranslation of 'sitting on the floor'? Or does this sign apply only to an area without seats (such as a corridor)?

  • 2
    I wasn't the one who downvoted you in case you were wondering. Why the downvote anonymous? – dan-klasson Dec 2 '14 at 15:15
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    @A.E.+1 Cogent.you summed it up pretty well. – adityasrivastav Dec 2 '14 at 15:22
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    @AE: TIT (This Is Thailand). You get used to it after a while. – dan-klasson Dec 2 '14 at 15:42
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    @Centaurus: Yeah they are clearly party poopers. We actually have the same sign in my home country. But here in Bangkok they have automatic gates, making it impossible to commit suicide by jumping onto the tracks. So not sure why they hate on balloons so much. – dan-klasson Dec 2 '14 at 15:43
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    @dan-klasson: I noticed balloons are banned in the station at Schiphol airport too. They said it was something to do with the overhead power. I assume that if someone loses one into the ceiling, they can't just leave a free-floating piece of metal foil up there, where it might get between two wires and bridge around the insulator. Or something like that. Anyway they have to stop everything while they fetch it down. – Steve Jessop Dec 2 '14 at 16:41
10

There is nothing grammatically wrong with the sentence. It is equivalent to:

"They are not allowed."

In which the verb is plural because the subject is plural.

  • i like this answer best. the distinction here is singular v. plural. we use is for singular and are for plural. that's all that needs to be said. – ell Dec 2 '14 at 22:02
1

Smoking, drinking and eating are not allowed.

Three separate activities, none of which are allowed.

Smoking, drinking and eating is not allowed.

Three activities which you are not allowed to do at the same time. But doing just one or two is okay.

The "are" makes them a plural group, and the "is" makes them a single unit.

Also, the signs/announcements are using the passive voice. Saying "It is not allowed to smoke, drink, or eat" makes me wonder what "It" is. Is it a bear? An elephant? What isn't allowed to smoke, drink or eat? Active voice would say, "You are not allowed to smoke, eat, or drink" but "Smoking, drinking and eating are not allowed" is fine.

  • 4
    Why the downvote people? If you downvote, please explain why. – dan-klasson Dec 2 '14 at 15:37
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    None of which is allowed. None = not one. – TRomano Dec 2 '14 at 18:18
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    @TRomano the plural verb is also acceptable and has been so for a long time english.stackexchange.com/questions/1425/… – Mari-Lou A Dec 2 '14 at 19:35
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    Acceptable to whom? – TRomano Dec 2 '14 at 19:40
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    I would assume any downvotes are from the last paragraph expressing an issue with the sentence 'It is not allowed...'. That's the reason I didn't upvote. 'It is not allowed...' followed by a list of things means that each of those things is not allowed. To smoke is not allowed, to drink is not allowed, to eat is not allowed. – DCShannon Dec 3 '14 at 21:29
0

Sawat-dee khrapp, khun Dan! English language signage in Bangkok & the rest of Thailand takes on mirth-inducing proportions for the uninitiated. The examples the OP cites on the MRT (subway) are tame, but otherwise largely correct, in comparison to some of the howlers one sees on the sois and byways of upper & lower Sukhumvit. Gone, but not forgotten, is the travel agent whose signage proclaimed in upper & lower cases, RIP Travel. I could never figure out if this was a subliminal warning to "Watch it, we are ripoff merchants", or some kind of morbid salutation prior to a flight out of 'old swampy' at Suvarnabhumi

Best of all was the signage in a loo at an internationally renowned hospital that requested, "Broken Man & Imbeciles: Summon help. Pull red cord". As we say in Thailand, TIT - This is Thailand!

protected by Mari-Lou A Apr 12 '15 at 7:54

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