Children always appreciate small gifts of money. Mum or dad, of course, provide a regular supply of pocket money, but uncles and aunts are always a source of extra income.

This is a sentence from "New Concept English", which is the most popular English textbook in China. But I have two questions about the grammar.

  1. Shouldn't we use "provides" instead of "provide"? (Because "dad" is a singular noun.)

  2. Shouldn't we use "are always sources of" instead of "are always a source of"? (Because "uncles and aunts" are two sources, and there is an "are".)

  • Welcome to the site George! I have edited your question for formatting and to make the title include the grammatical issue that you want to learn about. You can express thanks by accepting an answer that you are sure is helpful to you; or, when you get more reputation points, you can cast upvotes on answers. – herisson Jan 19 '18 at 3:46
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    Mum or dad operates in the above example as "They," but in my sentence, for instance, mum or dad works as an *It." – Stu W Jan 19 '18 at 4:01
  • If I were copyediting New Concept English, I would not leave the sentence as is. But I would not correct it by changing provide to provides, which sounds effortful in its pursuit of technical accuracy. Instead, I would change Mum or dad to Parents. This has the additional benefit of continuing the discussion at the same magnification used in the preceding sentence, which addresses children at a nonspecific level that may involve multiple families or single families (as may the phrase "uncles and aunts" in the second sentence). The odd phrase out is "Mum or dad." – Sven Yargs Jan 19 '18 at 21:38

As Stu W mentioned, "mum or dad" stands in the place of "they", used as a third-person gender-neutral singular pronoun (or perhaps a plural pronoun, you could argue). Then the sentence could read "They, of course, provide a regular supply of pocket money...".

For your second question, both "are always sources of" and "are always a source of" would be correct. There would be a subtle difference of meaning between the two; the first phrasing treats each aunt or uncle as an individual source, whereas the second considers them as a whole group. As an American, I wouldn't naturally assume that the aunts are a separate group from the uncles, but in some contexts that may make sence.


The Chicago Manual of Style 5.131 says this: "When a verb has two or more singular subjects connected by or or nor, it is singular." That seems definitive, but I don't think it works in this case. I think 'mum or dad' is functioning as an expression with a plural meaning. That's the only explanation I've got for why 'provide' sounds natural to me.

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