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I am confused about numbers. Which one is correct?

Goals is what makes me feel alive.

or

Goals are what makes me feel alive.

And another example I am confused about:

Another factor is his enemies...

or

Another factor are his enemies...

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  • 'Having realistic goals is what makes me feel alive' sounds more logical, and the problem about agreement disappears. 'Realistic goals are what we need' works. 'Bacon and eggs is on the menu' treats the subject as an inseparable (hence singular) concept, in spite of the plural form. 'Another factor is his enemies' makes standard use of proximity agreement, in a less clear case. Dec 16, 2014 at 23:02

3 Answers 3

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In the first statement, the subject is clearly plural. This demands a plural verb: are.

The second statement is a bit confusing, because the subject is not very clear, partly because the sentence is not complete, so it is difficult to see the entire picture, but also because there is an understood "that" missing.

It is tempting to take enemies as the subject, but that is incorrect. The subject is "factor".

Another factor is [that] his enemies were gathering around him.

This is much clearer than:

Another factor are his enemies were gathering around him.

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Goals are the thing that makes me feel alive.

The subject complement may be singular, but the subject itself is plural. There is no rule (at least, not one I've ever seen or ever followed) that states that a verb needs to agree with its arguments. Subject and complement may disagree in number, but the verb must agree with its subject.

 

Another factor is his enemies.

The same rule applies. The verb agrees with its subject. It has no reason to agree with its complement.

 

John hits several balls.

In this case, the verb's argument is a direct object rather than a subject complement. It makes no difference. The verb agrees with its subject. The number and person of any argument doesn't matter.

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  • In the examples in question, it was unclear what the subject and object were. With the verb be, you can reverse the sentence and it still makes sense. "I am John." "John is I/me." Your own example isn't really relevant.
    – jocap
    Dec 17, 2014 at 1:43
  • Nothing ambiguous at all, and there are no objects in those sentences. These are subjects linked to predicate nominative subject complements. Word order matters. "The thing that makes me feel alive is goals." "His enemies are another factor." On the other hand, "The thing that makes me feel alive, goals are" and "Another factor, his enemies are." Even when the complement precedes the subject, word order makes each role clear. Dec 17, 2014 at 1:56
  • I've left my own answer, but you're right in that "another factor are his enemies" would be a grammatically correct way of saying it that would probably never be said.
    – jocap
    Dec 17, 2014 at 2:09
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I'm kind of torn myself. I'm not a native English speaker, but I've spoken it for as long as I can remember and think in it most of the time. To me, given the right situation, all of the sentences are potentially correct.

The second sentence is easy to interpret. Either you regard another factor as the subject, or his enemies. The latter results in (or requires) a reverse word order, which is uncommon but not non-existent.

The first sentence is the tricky one. You could apply the same logic, and treat either goals or what makes me believe as the subject, but the latter feels weird because it's very long and complicated. Yet, with the right intonation, "goals is what makes me believe" sounds right to me. I think it's a way of treating goals as a single concept, and thereby making the subject singular.

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