3

Is it

…a set of characteristics in a society that are desirable for everyone

or

…a set of characteristics in a society that is desirable for everyone

I.e. should the "is/are" refer to the set itself or the items inside the set?

Additionally: Should I use everyone or everybody in this context?

6
  • You've left the thing you are asking about out of the phrase! Whether you use "is" or "are" depends on what that thing is! Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 14:14
  • @DavidSchwartz please elaborate. My question is, is it the first or the second one. A or B.
    – Mathis
    Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 14:17
  • Whether you use "is" or "are" depends on what you're describing. Unfortunately, you didn't tell us what is being described. If it's singular, then the second one is right. If it's plural, then the first one is. But you didn't give us the part of the sentence that has the thing we're talking about! Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 14:18
  • @DavidSchwartz The complete sentence is "Since it is virtually impossible to objectively define a set of characteristics in a society that is/are desirable for everyone, …". But in my understanding (though I am not a native speaker) is, that the is/are has to refer either to the set or the characteristics and therefore the beginning of the sentence doesn't matter.
    – Mathis
    Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 14:26
  • It seems awfully odd to me to use "are" if the beginning of the sentence is unambiguously singular. For example, this seems quite odd to me: "As each individual is unique, only the empty set is a set of characteristics in a society that are desirable for everyone." Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 14:32

4 Answers 4

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If it's desirable that everyone have all the characteristics in the set, then you're treating it as a single item and should use "is".

If the characteristics can be considered individually, and they're each desirable on their own, then you would use the plural "are".

This is similar to:

Milk and cookies is a nice afternoon snack.

vs.

Milk and cookies are both delicious.

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It is my understanding that you may use either "is" or "are," depending on your emphasis. If your desired emphasis is on "set" then you use "is." On the other hand, if you desire to emphasize the variety of characteristics, then you may use "are."

Sorry I do not have a reference, but have drawn on my experience in other contexts. For example when using "faculty" you may say "the faculty of the university is concerned..." or say "the faculty of the university are concerned...."

May I add one more suggestion to improve your sentence? The "is" or "are" would generally refer to the last used noun, which in your sentence is "society." So my suggestion is to refine your sentence to: The set of characteristics which is/are desirable in society....

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  • You're okay with: "Since each individual is unique, only the empty set is a set of characteristics in a society that are desirable for everyone."? Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 14:20
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What is "it"? I can see two possibilities:

  • An expression denoting a desirable set of characteristics. Then you would want "is", since "set" is singular.
  • An expression denoting a set of desirable characteristics. Then you would want "are", since "characteristics" is plural.

In other words, are the individual characteristics desirable for everyone, or is the set as a whole desirable for everyone?

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I do believe that we should say as follows: 1 - There is a set of valuable books since the word set is one unit. 2- There are valuable books.

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  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 7:44
  • Hello, Yaseen. Here, a more appropriate comparison is with 'a group of lions which got out of control' vs ' 'a group of lions which got out of control': '[a group of lions] which got out of control' vs ' 'a group of [lions which got out of control]'. And you can look up 'notional agreement': many would opt for 'England are beating Macedonia' and many more for 'bacon and eggs is my favourite breakfast'. Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 10:35

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