I am struggling with a sentence, as in a condolence note:

Your kindness and friendship to both my parents [was/were] so special.

If I omit the "to both my parents" bit, then we have a compound subject that sounds natural with "were":

Your kindness and friendship were so special.

But when I add in the "to both my parents", my ear grates at the "were" and wants a "was" there. Which is correct, and what has changed?

I suspect that adding the phrase "to both my parents" in this way (without commas) creates an adherence between the "kindness" and "friendship" and effectively fuses the compound into a singular entity?

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    The intervening prepositional phrase makes the notional singular agreement sound even more acceptable. / The answer here depends on (a) whether you subscribe to notional agreement, (b) how far you take this and (c) whether you consider 'kindness and friendship' a single combined trait or two separate traits. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 15 '19 at 16:23

To start with, "parents" already means both parents so that may simplify.

Also, you are referring to the friendship that was special, not the parents. You are modifying the singular, friendship, not the plural parents.

Your kindness and friendship to my parents [was] so special.

And depending on you beliefs or personal taste the friendship is not necessarily over merely because your parents have passed away. You can express your appreciation for its history and current state: Your kindness and friendship to my parents and my family was so special and continues to be.

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  • Thanks. My very candid feedback to you is: I was not asking for suggestions on how to simplify or improve a condolence note, and it's off-topic (and a bit offensive!) that this answer does that, while also sidestepping the grammar issue at hand: the question is about agreement with the compound subject "kindness and friendship", not confusion over what the subject of the sentence is. I'm appreciative that you took the time to answer, and wanted you to understand why I'm downvoting here. – Ben Zotto Jul 16 '19 at 15:18

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