6

‘Every’ is considered singular, or so I have been told.

Every boy is happy.

However, what is correct when ‘every’ is used in both components of a compound subject?

Every boy and every girl is happy.

Every boy and every girl are happy.

People on my end give unconvincing arguments for both. I find neither particularly appealing. Still, one of them must be correct. Which one, and why?

  • I don't think there's a lot of logic behind the idiomatic choice, but proximity agreement (... every girl is happy) is normal here. These Google Ngrams (one a flatline) lend support to this claim. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 20 '15 at 8:48
  • You could get round the problem by saying "all the boys and girls are happy". or "every child is happy", but I'm not sure why you might need the construction you're asking about. – Margana Aug 20 '15 at 9:06
  • 1
    @Margana It's reasonably common, and may be preferred over the more mundane versions for pragmatic reasons (spelling things out adds emphasis and perhaps freshness). English for Students.com has an article on this construction. Though I'd say 'proximity agreement' is usually based on what sounds right rather than the type of logic they claim is operating here. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 20 '15 at 9:15
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    @Margana I don't need the construction per se, but a question without an answer galls me. – konaya Aug 20 '15 at 9:19
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    ... Quirk et al [ACGEL] have 'Conflict between grammatical concord and attraction through proximity tends to increase with the distance between the noun phrase head of the subject and the verb.' I'd say this argues for the 'what sounds right' stance. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 20 '15 at 9:20
14

Normally a combination of singulars equates to a plural, as you know.

John is happy.
John and Sue are happy.

BUT when the singles are grouped by a singular adjective, they maintain their single count. This is because singular grouping adjectives like "every" stay singular even if referring to more than one person.

Despite the room being full of people, everybody is happy.
Every Tom, Dick and Harry is here.
But any boy or girl who misbehaves will be punished.

Therefore the correct statement is:

Every boy and every girl is happy.

  • I know this is completely off-topic, but is your name 'Seth Jeffery' or 'Seth Jeffrey'? – Adi219 Jan 7 '18 at 15:50
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    Very off-topic, but it seems there's no obvious DM feature in StackExchange! ... It is indeed 'Jeffery', it's not a typo. – Seth Jeffery Jan 8 '18 at 9:27
  • Sorry if that was a bit personal but thanks! – Adi219 Jan 12 '18 at 20:14
  • But 'every' is not an adjective. It's a determiner. There needs to be confirmation that 'Every A and every B' takes singular agreement; after all, 'the boy is pleased' and 'the girl is pleased' do not license '*the boy and the girl is pleased'. And 'All the cheese was eaten' and 'all the cake was eaten', but 'All the cheese and cake were eaten'. Why the difference with 'every'? Some supporting reference, at least, needs adding. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 1 at 13:55
3
+100

Consider the following from Grammar Bytes:

Two words, however, have incredible sentence power. Each and every are singular and can strong-arm an otherwise plural antecedent to become singular as well.

Watch what happens:

  • The cowboy and his horse drank their fill at the desert oasis.

  • Each cowboy and horse drank his fill at the desert oasis.

  • Every cowboy, horse, pack mule, trail hand, and cook drank his fill at the desert oasis.

Each and every will also change the verbs that have to agree:

  • Whenever a diner walks in five minutes before closing, the cook and waitress sigh and roll their eyes.

  • Whenever a diner walks in five minutes before closing, every cook and waitress sighs and rolls her eyes.

- Rules for Finding and Fixing Pronoun Agreement Errors

The key idea is to consider the unit the verb applies to. Your example is:

Every boy and every girl is/are happy.

Here, the candidate units are

  • child, whether boy or girl; or
  • a selection from "every boy", coordinated with a selection from "every girl".

In the first case, the unit is one child, so *every boy and every girl is happy. This would be the straightforward reading of the sample sentence. This is also the force of the quote above.

If we changed the reference to (say) coordinates, however, we can end up with the second candidate unit being natural. For example:

  • Every X coordinate and every Y coordinate match(es).

If the context is that we are matching X1 with Y1, X2 with Y2 and so on, plural agreement works. If, instead, we're talking about any of the X coordinates matching with any of the Y coordinates, we'd revert to singular agreement.

Here's an example of plural agreement in print (emphasis, mine):

  • Men have their faults, their humours, and their follies, it is certain; the ladies sometimes have theirs too; and my readers would little imagine, till it comes to a trial, how much every husband and every wife are what their help-mates make them. - The New Christian's magazine

If they had used singular agreement, the quote would be referring to individual husbands and, separately, individual wives. By using plural agreement, the author brings into view the dynamic of the husband-wife 'marital unit', that both affect the other - but only the respective other.

  • 1
    Thanks for posting this! The Grammar Bytes quotation certainly seems relevant, although it doesn't give an example of the exact type "every x and every y" with multiple "every"s. The last paragraph of your answer seems very interesting, and to me personally the argument seems plausible, but I would be interested in seeing some kind of external support for the idea that sentences like "every x coordinate and every y coordinate match" are validly formed. Can you quote any pre-existing examples from books/articles? – sumelic Jan 7 '18 at 18:15
  • @sumelic Now that's a tall order :) . I was hesitant in posting the last bit and now think it might be an archaic or perhaps logically-inaccurate (but grammatically acceptable, at least historically) way of expressing "every X and its Y". I'm having a hard time finding a relevant source through the many instances where 'every X and every Y' is misused with plural agreement. (Oh, and ... you're welcome :) .) – Lawrence Jan 8 '18 at 1:16
  • @sumelic There's also an ELL Q&A along these lines, though no published reference is offered. – Lawrence Jan 10 '18 at 16:00
  • @sumelic Another candidate: "how much every husband and every wife are what their help-mates make them". It's not each husband and (separately) each wife; it's the 'marital unit' that's in view. – Lawrence Jan 10 '18 at 16:02
0

Seth Jeffery is correct: "Every boy and every girl is happy."

As he pointed out, "every" remains singular, hence creating a compound sentence, with two subjects. I would parse it this way:

  • Every boy is happy and every girl is happy.
  • Every boy and girl is happy.

The first one, "Every boy and every girl is happy." Is a little too wordy. I think it can do without the second "every". I would let the second "every" be implied in that sentence. Essentially you're saying that the entire group of subjects is happy. Therefore the singular "group" is the implied subject.

You might also say: "The boys and girls are happy." That generally covers all of your subjects together as a plural, if you prefer to word it as such.

https://www.cliffsnotes.com/study-guides/grammar/common-sentence-errors/subjectpredicate-verb-agreement

  • Can you point to any references/sources that support this? – sumelic Jan 4 '18 at 22:51
  • I'd be happy to, but it's just basic grammar, and I don't know specifically what about my answer is causing trouble for you. So I'll just suggest a few good books on general grammar: The Everyday Writer / Edition 6 by Andrea A. Lunsford; A Writer's Reference / Edition 9 by Diana Hacker, Nancy Sommers; Rules for Writers with 2016 MLA Update / Edition 8 by Diana Hacker, Nancy Sommer; The Wordwatcher's Guide to Good Writing and Grammar 1st Edition by Morton S. Freeman; sinandsyntax.com (also her book). bustle.com/p/… – Bread Jan 4 '18 at 23:29
  • Thanks for editing to add the link! It’s helpful, but I’m not sure it mentions this exact type of compound subject. The closest example seems to be “Every house and garage”, but “every” isn’t repeated in that example. Probably that doesn’t make a difference, but it would be nice to see a source that is explicit about this – sumelic Jan 4 '18 at 23:49
  • You should rarely find "every" repeated within the same sentence in that manner, in any examples given in grammar books, since as I pointed out in my answer, it's poor grammar, being too wordy. The wordiness of the sentence was probably the cause of the initial confusion / ambiguity, in fact. – Bread Jan 5 '18 at 0:04
  • "Every X and every Y" (with repeated "every"), which you condemn as poor grammar, is reasonably common in mathematical writing. "Every complete metric space and every locally compact Hausdorff space has the Baire category property." – bof Jan 7 '18 at 23:24
0

It would be is as 'Every boy and girl __ happy' essentially boils down to 'Every boy __ happy. Every girl __ happy.'

In the boiled-down version, you would use is for both of the blanks, meaning that you should also use is for the blank in your original sentence.

  • Thanks for posting an answer! I'm not sure this argument has a valid structure. What about the sentence "A boy and a girl are walking in the street"? This pretty much means the same thing as "A boy is walking in the street. A girl is walking in the street." But we can't say "A boy and a girl is walking in the street." – sumelic Jan 7 '18 at 18:16
  • @sumelic: Why is this the same as that? Every, like all, any, and each is an implicit quantifier. I don't think the sentence you cite has much, if anything, in common with the every boy and girl sentence. (But I'm not a linguist.) – Drew Jan 10 '18 at 16:59
  • @Drew: I don't know if it's the same. The answer doesn't say anything about different types of quantifiers: it just presents two sentences that mean about the same thing as the original sentence and then says "In the boiled-down version, you would use is for both of the blanks, meaning that you should also use is for the blank in your original sentence." This answer may reach a correct conclusion, but I don't think the argument presented in the answer is complete. – sumelic Jan 10 '18 at 20:46
0

Strunk and White, Elements of Style, p. 10: "But certain compounds, often cliches, are so inseparable they are considered a unit and so take a singular verb, as do compound subjects qualified by 'each' or 'every.'"

Therefore:

Each boy and each girl is happy. Likewise, every boy is happy, and every girl is happy. Removing the first "is happy" in the second sentence doesn't change the subject from singular to plural. It only tightens up the sentence.

  • Thanks for posting this answer! It does seem relevant, but I'm a bit reluctant to accept Strunk and White as an authority on this matter because it is a style guide, not a grammar reference, and the rule is somewhat vaguely stated (it doesn't specify whether it is talking about structures like "Every x and y", "every x and every y", or both). – sumelic Jan 11 '18 at 18:45
  • The 2nd part of the answer uses bad logic. cf: "A boy is happy, and a girl is happy" -> *"A boy and a girl is happy" – AmI Jan 11 '18 at 21:46
-1

What about in this case:

Every word and text has a plethora of different meanings attached to it.

OR

Every word and text HAVE a plethora of different meanings attached to them.

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