Recently an editor just changed the plural verbs in my essay to singular ones, but I don't understand why he did so. Please see below:

(Original sentence) After rising to power through multiple revolutions, the Chinese Communist Party holds a subversive notion and ideology that not only aspire to break the old world, but also aim to build a new one.

(revised sentence) After rising to power through multiple revolutions, the Chinese Communist Party holds a subversive notion and ideology that not only aspires to break the old world, but also aims to build a new one.

In my understanding, there are two nouns in "a subversive notion and ideology", and that should be followed by a plural verb?

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    I suspect that they are construing those to be the same thing. – tchrist Jun 11 at 2:06
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    Thanks tchrist, So, in this sense, they treated "a subversive notion and ideology" as an uncountable mass noun, and thus used singular verbs? – Jane Jun 11 at 2:10
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    It's still countable, I'd say, but it is one compound thing. I'm not sure what notion adds to your sentence to be honest. I think ideology might be better by itself. – Minty Jun 11 at 2:20
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    Just adding the article an before ideology changes the singular phrase to plural items (just like "the fish and the chips are tasty", compared to "the fish and chips is tasty"). – Toby Speight Jun 11 at 13:02
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    Seriously, how can "a subversive notion and ideology" be a single thing? "A bad attitude and behavior account for his being punished." – Lambie Jun 11 at 14:08

The key is in the use of the indefinite article.

To paraphrase:

The CPP holds a subversive notion and ideology that aspires . . .

I have put the subject in superscript in order to set it off from the rest of the text. Especially because of the a, the syntax treats the phrase as a compound single subject.

It is the same idea as:

This fish and chips is delicious.

Although there are actually two separate things joined together, they are thought of, and treated as, a singular item.

In order for the syntax to show that there are multiple things being used as individual subjects, you would need to remove the indefinite article and pluralize the subjects:

The CPP holds subversive notions and ideologies that aspire . . .

Alternatively, it's possible to use a phrasing similar to what follows—but it would be somewhat awkward:

The CPP holds a subversive notion as well as a subversive ideology that both aspire . . .

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    Many thanks, Jason, your explanation is very clear! – Jane Jun 11 at 5:05
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    Would "a subversive notion and an ideology that aspire ..." also be correct? – JiK Jun 11 at 15:53
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    @JiK Yes, that works too. I exaggerated the distinction in my answer because it more clearly separates the two, but it's not essential. – Jason Bassford Jun 11 at 15:56
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    @JiK But note that a second article isn't always sufficient to make something plural. For instance: A wing and a prayer isn't enough. That's an idiomatic phrase with two indefinite articles that's still treated as something singular. – Jason Bassford Jun 11 at 16:13

Yes. tchrist and Minty are right I think. But are both the notion and the ideology subversive? It isn't quite clear. And can a notion itself aspire to do something? Perhaps an ideology can, but I'm not sure. I would leave notion out, and say something like

"The CCP's subversive ideologies suggest that it aspires not only to break the old world but also to build a new one."

  • Got it, thanks Old Brixtonian! Your revised version looks better! – Jane Jun 11 at 2:40

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