In my grammar book, in a chapter on subject-verb agreement, the author said that when two nouns, joined by and, are suggesting the same idea or person, we consider the nouns as one unit and use a singular verb, e.g. in The novelist and poet is dead.

Among many examples he gave, I caught attention of this one:

Time and tide waits for none.

This didn't appear correct to me. I think it should have been:

Time and tide wait for none.

I went on to look on the internet and found conflicting resolutions to this. Different references said differently. What do you think is correct? And what's the reason behind your answer?


A possible duplicate has been raised for my question: Time and tide wait for no man. However, in the mentioned duplicate, the OP is not interested in knowing which construct is correct. He's rather interested in knowing the nuance between tide and time. Hence, the answers provided there also talk about that nuance, rather than answering which construct is correct.

  • No, in this case those two words are synonyms. Because here time = tide, it takes a singular verb. – tchrist Jun 12 '16 at 0:19
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    @tchrist: In the mentioned link, there is no resolution to my query. The OP is not interested in which construct is correct. He's interested rather in the subtlety between tide and time. Hence, the answers, in the mentioned link, do not provide a resolution to my question. – shivams Jun 12 '16 at 0:32
  • Why do you assume that one is incorrect? The answers there are the answers you need. When you use singular, it means one thing. Plural means two things. That's how English works. You only thought it was wrong because you failed to undestand that it was one thing not two. – tchrist Jun 12 '16 at 0:36
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    The question is still opened. The older question does mention that "tide" is another word for "time" and hence the reason why waits was / is used. Your grammar book was correct after all, the author just failed to explain the meaning of the proverb. – Mari-Lou A Jun 12 '16 at 6:15
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    I don't see that "time" and "tide" are conceptualised as a single unit. And virtually every attestation that I came across used plural "wait". – BillJ Jun 12 '16 at 8:45

According to Ngram, wait is around 10x more popular than waits, and has been since about 1850, and this doesn't subtract out the enormous number of waits instances which are actually illustrating the difference between the two versions (and the erroneousness of using waits).

However, one of the earliest occurrences of the saying was in The Disappointment or the Force of Credulity, 1796, by Andrew Barton, and Barton rendered the saying as "Time and tide waits for no one."

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  • I never knew about this Ngram thing. Thanks for this neat method/tool. I hope it will come handy in future. – shivams Jun 12 '16 at 5:28
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    If you take a look at the older question there is a reason why the waits in "time and tide waits for no one" is not erroneous. In the past, the two terms were synonymous, a case of reduplication. It's only nowadays that we think of the two things as being separate. – Mari-Lou A Jun 12 '16 at 6:14

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