This is forbidden. An exception is/are situations where you...

The word exception is singular but the word situations that follows is plural. Also I'm not sure what is the subject and what is the object in this sentence but I think subject vs object may affect the answer to my question.

Edit: To clarify, I'd like you to let me know if either is version is correct, or are version is correct, or both, or none.

  • In a copula-based statement (A is B) the subject isn't easily identified semantically, because B is A is a perfectly straightforward recasting. But syntactically the subject is normally the one preceding the verb. Thus in your example, nearly everyone would say An exception is situations where you have permission, but if the "correspondence" were reversed it'd be Situations where you have permission are an exception. Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 13:10
  • @FumbleFingers Yeah, I had these things in mind when posting my question. But I don't know if this sentence in the order I used (an exception <verb> situations...) is correct English when it's used to mean Situations where you ... are an exception..
    – NPS
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 13:15
  • I think you'd have to be an extreme pedant to claim that An exception are those cases (where B applies) was syntactically "invalid", even though structurally it mixes the plurality of the "subject" and verb. In fact, my link has 33 hits, against only 5 for An exception is those cases... In the final analysis, semantics is the main factor (if the most important thing is the fact that there's one exception, use the singular; if it's that there are multiple cases, plural is better). Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 13:27
  • @FumbleFingers But that's heavily affected by the word those there. If you just do an exception is cases ... you get 79 hits, but only 6 for an exception are cases. I still agree with your general point though. (Btw, the 33 cases is only actually ten when you click on the second page and remove the doubles) Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 16:43

2 Answers 2


What you're looking at is the principle of proximity. From the prescriptivist point of view: It's the subject that dictates subject-verb agreement, but there are times when subject-verb agreement isn't so easy and clear. A strict prescriptivist grammarian would tell you that only the following sentence is correct:

An exception is situations where you...

but in real life, that is not the case. Both of your answers are fine, and this is why:

Merriam-Webster's dictionary of English usage. (1994). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.

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  • I've just learned I'm a prescriptivist. Big time! :P That's actually also why I don't like natural languages. Which is the point here: doesn't matter what is correct - if enough people make a mistake it's not a mistake anymore. But anyway, very useful answer regardless, thank you.
    – NPS
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 14:12
  • This is not really a mistake. There are also two other terms worth mentioning: the notional and grammatical concord. Both agreements are fine, and as it's noted, "It is desirable to be consistent, but, in an area where notional agreement appears to hold absolute sway, it is perhaps even more desirable to be NATURAL." In academic writing, I'd stick to grammatical concord, though. This is similar to the "I vs. me" debate. Both are correct. The 'I' pronoun usage comes from Latin; the "me" pronoun usage comes from French. After all, English is/was a language melting pot.
    – Fae
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 14:18
  • In this case it might not be a mistake but in general there are cases where something was evidently a mistake but since more and more people kept making that mistake it was finally accepted as the correct (or even the only correct!) form/version. That's just awful!
    – NPS
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 14:25
  • I agree with the part about "what", but the examples at the bottom of page 57 regarding the principle of proximity seem rather unnatural to me. Note the warning on the right-hand column of page 57, in the last paragraph of that section: "... in print it will be considered an error".
    – Lawrence
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 14:26
  • In all of the examples stated it is some element directly to the left - not the right - of the verb which has overridden normal Subject verb agreement. Although right proximity works with existential sentences beginning There is, you haven't produced any examples which seem to show that right proximity will work in non-existential sentences. It would be good to get some examples to back up your claim (which I think is probably well-founded). Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 16:32

Exception can be a singular or plural noun as required to match whatever follows it.

  1. An exception is a situation where ...
  2. Some exceptions are those situations where ...

Edit: "An exception are ..." just reads wrong, just as "a dog are ..." does. You could justify "An exception is ..." where what follows is a coherent group of things.

  • Are you saying that both an exception is situations where... and an exception are situations where... are incorrect English?
    – NPS
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 13:09
  • Uh, did you read the question? (At least as well as I would?)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 13:27
  • @HotLicks Yes I did.
    – Simon B
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 13:30
  • Maybe you should read it again, very carefully. Is "exceptions" mentioned anywhere?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 13:32
  • @HotLicks No it wasn't. I realised that. It was intentional.
    – Simon B
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 13:35

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