I was writing an essay about Romeo and Juliet when I faced this problem.

Is it "deaths of both Romeo and Juliet" or "death of both Romeo and Juliet"? I think the prepositional complement has to agree with "death" (what is this "death" in terms of grammar anyway? Subject?), but I am not entirely sure. Please help!

  • "death" in terms of grammar is most likely the subject noun, but it depends on the context. Can you give an example sentence? – AMACB Mar 6 '16 at 4:15
  • @AMACB...this romantic epic ended with a tragedy with the deaths of both Romeo and Juliet. – Mercutio Mar 6 '16 at 4:17
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    ("Deaths" is the object of a preposition, and "of both Romeo and Juliet" is a prepositional phrase describing "deaths.") "Romeo and Juliet" is joined by a conjunction, so it functions as a plural noun. Therefore, "deaths" should be plural. – AMACB Mar 6 '16 at 4:20
  • @AMACB webapps.towson.edu/ows/prepositions.htm According to this, "Romeo and Juliet" should be the object of the preposition "of". – Mercutio Mar 6 '16 at 4:24
  • @AMACB But does it make difference? – Mercutio Mar 6 '16 at 4:25

My interpretation is that if one were referring to a singular event that is the death of both of them, then the phrase would be "the death of both Romeo and Juliet". However, if one were referring to both of their deaths in a non-collective manner (as I would, considering they died at different times, and of different reasons), then the phrase would be "deaths of both Romeo and Juliet".

Poster's note: I'm having difficulty finding verification of this, so take this with a grain of salt. If someone find a source that verifies/denies this interpretation, then I'll remove/edit this answer accordingly.

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  • For verbs, if two singular subjects express one idea then the verb may be singular (example: "the horse and carriage is waiting"). Applying the same rule to noun (death) and complements(Romeo and Juliet) confirms your interpretation. – Graffito Mar 6 '16 at 22:32
  • @Graffito So...both death and deaths are plausible? – Mercutio Mar 6 '16 at 23:40
  • Yeah, but as indicated above, I believe they mean slightly different things. I'd advise going with "deaths" for most cases when talking about Romeo and Juliet. I'll see if I can get a friend who's a Linguistics major to look at it, though. – David McKnight Mar 7 '16 at 0:08
  • @Mercutio - As the death(s) of Romeo and Juliette can be considered as a unique event in the drama (it's a matter of opinion), I would use the singular. – Graffito Mar 7 '16 at 0:18

I don't know what would say our grammar, but it could be deaths or death of R. & J. (which would allow you to skip here "both") & never deaths of both R. & J., because you'd have a useless repetition with a plural & "both" for the only 2 pax who died.

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  • Why never? I thought that "deaths" is possible because, for some unknown reasons I could not confirm with a source, they have to agree. Or am I completely wrong here? – Mercutio Mar 6 '16 at 17:24
  • Never, because with a plural for deathS & the only 2 subjects who died you never have to be so heavy in your sentence with en extra "both" which add no precision at all. – DAVE Mar 7 '16 at 11:16

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