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I have been told that with the conjunction "or" we must apply the following rule: a singular verb is used if the subject that comes after "or" is singular. Is it correct?

I would naturally say the apple or the orange is good. But it seems that we should also say

  • the apples or the orange is good
  • but the orange or the apples are good.

Is it correct?

Otherwise, if I am thinking of "this or that or both", is it correct to use the plural? And say the apple or the orange are (both) good.

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The best answer is the opposite of what you were starting to do. It's more common to use the plural and say "Apples or oranges are both good."

With mixed plurals ("they or I" or "you or we"), style guides will say to use the closer noun but there's a substantial number of native speakers who have trouble with this. The whole issue with s/v agreement and or is vexed and what we usually do is simply phrase things so that we can avoid it. If you're ever in some bizarre situation where there's a specific single orange and an indeterminate number of potential apples, you'd say "I'm fine with apples or the orange" and not anything where the sentence started with the options.

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  • +1, particularly for noting the awkwardness of the mixed-plurals construct regardless of its formal grammatical correctness.
    – Lawrence
    Apr 25, 2016 at 5:13
  • @lly Thank you very much for your answer, very helpful. I am not sure that all English books are written by native speakers !
    – emeryville
    Apr 25, 2016 at 13:59
  • @emery I'm quite sure that those in China generally aren't, but you're welcome for your kind words.
    – lly
    Apr 25, 2016 at 14:05
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Sometimes your choice can provide context not otherwise explicit. "Is wine or beer included?" may imply belief or expectation that either none or only one of them are included, while "Are fruit, sausage, or toast included?" may belie a presumption or hope that more than just one are included.

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I have searched for the answer and found this, I hope it helps.

Grammarian s say that the verb should agree in number with the subject. For instance, if the elements do not agree, the verb should agree with the nearest subject: "Mary or her relatives are coming". Or: "Either Mary is coming or her relatives are" - revising to avoid the agreement incongruence. Also, if subject series connected by 'or' are in the singular, the verb is in the singular and vice-versa is available. The verb is in the plural when the series of subjects is in the plural, like: "Wine, ale or beer is included in the charge"/ Tomatoes, potatoes or onions are cheaper now than they were last week.

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