1

I'm considering editing a Stack Overflow question titled:

What is functional, declarative and imperative programming?

It seems like "are" should be used instead of "is" since it comes before a list of things, and if you weren't familiar with the topic it might sound like it was asking about one type of programming that was all three of those at the same time. But does it make a difference when the list of things is a list of adjectives describing a single thing? I mean, does the "is" or "are" apply to the "functional, declarative and imperative" or to "programming"?

I know that the sentence actually means

functional programming, declarative programming, and imperative programming

and if I write it like that it seems clear that "are" should be used, but for some reason when I look at the original sentence, both "is" and "are" look wrong.

I'm not sure of the terminology I should use to refer to a sentence with this structure, so I'd also appreciate it if someone could tell me if there is a name for this type of "distributive" list.

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Edwin Ashworth, Rand al'Thor, Chenmunka, tchrist word-choice Feb 7 '17 at 14:31

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • The question in case - it doesn't hurt to link to it. – Glorfindel Feb 2 '17 at 16:50
  • Thanks for that, I wasn't sure if I should or not. – Don't Panic Feb 2 '17 at 16:52
  • 2
    If, as seems likely here, these are three distinct areas are being specified, 'are' is required. 'What is A, what is B, and what is C?' reduces to 'What are A, B and C?' However, 'Health and safety is paramount' treats [H+S] as a single composite topic. Notional vs 'as grammar would seem to dictate' agreement has often been covered here before. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 2 '17 at 16:58
  • 1
    This type of "distributive" list (functional, declarative and imperative programming) is simply a noun phrase (compound noun, if you like). Sometimes the "plurality" is obvious even without further context, so big and small sheep pretty much has to refer to more than one sheep. But terrified and exhausted deer either refers to a single animal or several treated collectively (not one or more terrified deer, plus one or more other deer who are exhausted but not terrified). It's all just common sense. – FumbleFingers Feb 2 '17 at 17:09
  • 1
    Right. If one single type of programming needs to be functional, declarative and imperative, you use the single: is. If these are three competing approaches to programming, you use the plural: are. – Davo Feb 2 '17 at 17:26
-1

In a comment, FumbleFingers wrote:

This type of "distributive" list (functional, declarative and imperative programming) is simply a noun phrase (compound noun, if you like). Sometimes the "plurality" is obvious even without further context, so big and small sheep pretty much has to refer to more than one sheep. But terrified and exhausted deer either refers to a single animal or several treated collectively (not one or more terrified deer, plus one or more other deer who are exhausted but not terrified). It's all just common sense.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.