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I'm trying to figure out how to word the following hyperbolic statement regarding dodgy building construction:

The only sturdy thing about that building [is/are] the nails holding it together.

Which is correct in this case, is or are? Neither sounds correct.

Even if I reword the sentence, it still sounds awkward:

The nails holding that building together [is/are] the only sturdy thing about it.

We have three subjects; two singulars and a plural. Grammatically, the main subject is the "sturdy thing", but the nails are the punchline (the context is supposed to be funny).

What's the rule here?

marked as duplicate by Janus Bahs Jacquet, Helmar, Chenmunka, tchrist Sep 9 '16 at 14:18

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    There is one subject in that sentence (as in pretty much any sentence), not three. In the first version, the subject is “the only sturdy thing about that building”; in the second, it “the nails holding that building together”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 9 '16 at 8:02
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The only sturdy thing about that building [is/are] the nails holding it together.

The subject thing must agree in number with the verb is. The nails on the other side of the linking verb is is called the predicate nominative, which is noun or pronoun that identifies or explains the subject.

The only sturdy thing about that building is the nails holding it together.

Suggestion: Nails are the only sturdy thing holding that building together.

The nails holding that building together are the only sturdy thing about it. [nails = plural subject and are = plural verb]

It's called Subject/Verb Agreement.

5a. When a word refers to one person or thing, it is singular in number. When a word refers to more that one, it is plural in number.

5b. A verb agrees with its subject in number.

(1) Singular subjects take singular verbs.

EXAMPLE

My friend likes algebra. [The singular verb likes agrees with the singular subject friend.]

(2) Plural subjects take plural verbs.

EXAMPLE

My friends like algebra.

John E. Warriner. Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition. Third Course. Liberty Edition. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, Brace, and Jovanovich. 1986. 160.

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