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Consider the following (potentially incorrect) sentence:

Every boy and Jen have three balloons.

If this is incorrect or poorly phrased, what is the proper way to state that a categorization of objects (in this case, boy) plus another specific object that does not fall into the previously specified category (in this case, Jen) all have some property (in this case, possession of three balloons)?

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    Do they have 3 balloons apiece? Then is should be "has". – Hot Licks Apr 14 '20 at 2:28
  • It’s have, not has when you refer to more than one person: All the children with blue eyes have two rubber bands. All the boys and Jen have three baloons. – Global Charm Apr 14 '20 at 5:42
  • I suggest that can't truly be Answered, partly because "Every boy" ungrouped them, partly because "three" wrongly seems to change the sense. Contrast it to, eg, "The boys and Jen (each) have balloons"… too many possibilities. Is there a natural example out there? – Robbie Goodwin Apr 18 '20 at 11:18
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    The boys and Jen have three balloons each. – RegDwigнt Apr 19 '20 at 11:56
  • Reg is correct to re-order here. This is the way to avoid a probable conflict of rules. You're trying to coalesce 'Every boy has three balloons and Jen has three balloons' and we have to consider whether the A in 'A and B have three balloons [each]' may be 'every X', which is probably not addressed in 99% of grammars. Using 'have' here sounds unnatural, but rephrasing sounds best. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 19 '20 at 15:01
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To clarify the ambiguity in "Hot Licks" comment. I would go with "Each boy and Jen has three balloons."

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Every boy and Jen have three balloons.

Syntax and punctuation are important in such questions.

  1. If the theme is "Jen", which is a strange name, then the sentence needs to be

"Jen, and the three boys, has a balloon." ", and the three boys," is a non-defining phrase - an aside - hence the parenthesis.

Compare with

"John, and his sister for that matter, is an excellent pianist."

  1. If the theme is "the three boys", then the sentence needs to be

"The three boys, and Jen, have balloons."

  1. If the theme is "Jen and the three boys", then the sentence needs to be

"Jen and the three boys all have balloons."

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People have provided several workable alternatives to the original sentence, which in its original form seems ambiguous. Does it mean that each individual (each boy and Jen) has three balloons, or that together, Jen and an unidentified number of boys have three balloons? That ambiguity can be cleared up in a number of ways, including several of those suggested, or by saying "The boys and Jen have three balloons each."

The answer to the question of which verb form to use is clearer. It's actually the conjunction ("and") that determines this.

Here's the rule I learned. When the conjunction is "or", the noun that follows "or" and is closest to the verb determines which verb to use. The result, though correct, sometimes sounds strange. Had the original sentence begun with "Every boy or Jen", the correct verb would have been "has", because "has" is the proper verb form to use with the singular "Jen" (or with "every boy" for that matter).

But when the conjunction is "and", as it is in the original sentence, the rule is to assume a plural subject and to use the appropriate verb form to go with it. So the use of "have" in the original sentence is correct.

So regarding your question about the original sentence, I'd say that because of the presence of "and", there's no doubt about the verb "have". But the wording of "Every boy and Jen", while not strictly incorrect, could be much clearer.

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  • Agree with you @Isabel Archer – Ram Pillai Apr 19 '20 at 12:23
  • I don't think that the original is ambiguous because it says "every boy and Jen (has) three balloons" which indicates possession of three balloons by each boy. Had the sentence read "The boys and Jen have three balloons" that would be ambiguous but with a tendency to imply that they have three balloons in common. – BoldBen Sep 16 '20 at 18:24

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