Apparently I've been involved in a debate in the Duolingo forums for about a year on whether when two possessors in a possessive construction possess the same shared/common object, whether the object should be in the singular or in the plural. At least in this particular construction.

People there have been discussing more than one aspect of the Korean and English versions of the same sentence, including previous versions of the sentence which may no longer be shown.

But this one point seems to have people defending both views:

It is two teachers' birthday today.
It is two teachers' birthdays today.

Depending on how my brain is working, both can sound right or one sounds right and the other sounds wrong. In the thread linked I defended the position that both should be regarded as acceptable.

Right now I have convinced my brain that only the first is correct due to agreement between the Singular pronoun It, singular verb is, and singular object of possession birthday. Is this correct?

(The thread can be confusing as to which person is debating which point of grammar in some comments and replies.)

  • Today is the the birthday of two teachers.
    – Kris
    Sep 10, 2020 at 13:12

2 Answers 2


The lack of need for number agreement between dummy it and the semantic subject in an extraposed sentence is well documented. Haj Ross has quoted William James as the source of a sentence celebrated in analysis hereabouts:

  • It's turtles all the way down.

Although the 'singular form for the singular possession, opinion etc of a group of two or more' principle is also well documented, and, for instance,

  • It is our hope that these cases can be treated ...
  • It is our contention that many of these cases will be seen to be ...
  • It is our aim to make ...
  • It is our opinion that ...
  • It is Smith and Jones'[s] car
  • It is the men's opinion that ...
  • It is Smith and Jones'[s] opinion that ...

are unchallengeable,

  • It is Smith's and Jones'[s] cars [you can see parked outside]

and the like are equally acceptable.

So both structures suggested are acceptable grammatically. The 'car' examples above show that choice is, as one would expect, in the first instance informed by the actual number of possessions etc. The problem is, are we best considering 'a shared birthday' (we use the actual phrase) as a single, or two, events / days ('We had a lovely day at the seaside') / affairs / notions ...?

I'd say this is not a clear-cut decision to make. Modelling on 'They share a birthday', I think I'd stick with the single celebratory day notion, and hence use

  • It is two teachers' birthday today.

But the alternative is perhaps equally justifiable, and if we're hinting at different parties, I'd perhaps opt for birthdays (somewhat metonymically).

  • Interesting. I didn't see the it in this examples as a dummy in the same way as in it is raining since in the latter there is no referent for it but in the example the referent is today. Sep 11, 2020 at 8:33
  • No. 'It' here is non-referential. 'Today' is here an adjunct. "It's Friday!" / "It's Christmas!" / "It's my birthday!" / "It's hometime." all use 'non-referential it': there is no overt nominal to which it is referring (although "Today is my birthday" is a paraphrase). It's just a grammatical device, devoid of meaning, used (in this example, and often) as a fronting element. cf "I like it here." / "It's second down and five to go." See Nordquist. Sep 11, 2020 at 10:25

I don't see why "it" needs to correspond with the object of possession. It is raining cats and dogs; it is nuts!; it is many days since I last saw my love... "It" coincides with "is", not with what comes after "is"...

But, if you said, "It is Mr. Jones' and Mrs. Grant's birthday today", the singular "birthday" makes sense... so...

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