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A teacher sent home a list of assignments with a cover letter explaining, "These are not homework."

"This is not homework," or "These pages are not homework," sound equally normal to me, but "These are not homework," just sounds weird. Is it correct grammar?

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I don't agree that the question: 'Agreement in “[Singular Noun] Is/Are [Plural Noun]”?' describes this specific usage. In "These are not homework," the word "These" is not a singular noun. It's a plural pronoun. I suspect that some of the problem is that the missing noun is implied to the reader only by the physical presence of other documents, and not contextually from the surrounding content of the cover letter itself.

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Nigel J, Drew, curiousdannii, Mitch Nov 19 '17 at 17:04

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  • There might be a slight problem with how natural / colloquial the sentence sounds (though it is totally grammatical). There would need to be an emphasis on and possibly a slight pause after 'These' to avoid unnaturalness. Or some other unusual stress pattern. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 18 '17 at 10:36
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    it's badly written. I can see the motivation because "this is not homework" could be taken to mean the list itself is not, but leaves unclear if the list items are homework. Still, the writer shouldn't be so pessimistic and use the more familiar (if slightly less accurate) "this", unless something is taking the "this/these", like "this list" or "these assignments" – dandavis Nov 18 '17 at 12:46
  • 'Homework' is uncountable, so neither singular nor plural. So english.stackexchange.com/questions/17766/… may not provide the answer here. – topo morto Nov 18 '17 at 17:44
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Can't a noun in plural form be complemented with a noun in singular form? Of course it can. Here are some examples:

These workers make a lot of mistakes when they work since they are new to this job. They are not the main reason we are losing money – the state of the market is.

and:

These people are my family.

and also:

We are a team!

If the above sentences sound grammatically correct to you, there's no reason why your teacher's sentence would be any different. The quote you provided is perfectly fine and makes the same sense:

These (things you need to do) are not (the) homework (you are obligated to do).

  • Nice examples, but the question has been covered on ELU before. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 18 '17 at 10:22
  • I think the links you guys provided are over-complicating something very simple. I don't really see the benefit of talking about agreement here where this is a simple case of "x + be + y". – David Haim Nov 18 '17 at 10:24
  • 'What is the point of this?' and 'What are the main reasons for your decision?' show that 'x + be + y' doesn't always behave the same way. / But the fact remains that this has been covered before. / I've corrected your post. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 18 '17 at 10:31
  • sorry, the examples you wrote behave exactly the same. it's again "x be y", just in question form. "the main reasons are these" -> "what are the main reasons" and "the point of this is that" -> "what is the point of this". again, over-complication for something simple. – David Haim Nov 18 '17 at 10:39
  • But now you're involving inversion and tacitly assuming it occurs only in a single way (ie that Comp-Copula-Sub can never occur). 'Something very simple' wouldn't have had doctoral theses written on it. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 18 '17 at 10:46
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If "these" in the teacher's letter refers back to "assignments", the statement "These are not homework" is short for "These assignments are not homework," which is grammatical--the subject and the verb agree in number.

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