13

A friend wants to write,

There is no hardware to purchase, no additional software to install and no key fobs to worry about.

This is awkward because the verb "is" doesn't match up with the third item, which is plural and demands "There are" as the subject. However,

There is no hardware to purchase, no additional software to install and there are no key fobs to worry about.

sounds awkward as well.

Is there a good workaround for this problem where some list items are singular and some are plural, so they don't share a common verb?

16

With compound antecedents connected by or or nor, make the pronoun agree with the nearer antecedent.

If one of the antecedents is singular and the other is plural, put the plural one last to avoid awkwardness.

--Hacker, Rules for Writers

  • Agreed. OP is simply being pedantic in claiming there's anything "technically incorrect" here. – FumbleFingers Mar 2 '12 at 2:55
  • ... unless you have a good reason for not putting the plural one last, in which case just use the first rule given in this answer. – Peter Shor May 14 '14 at 18:12
  • 3
    OP asks about lists connected by 'and'. – Edwin Ashworth May 5 '17 at 22:01
6

CGEL says that the 'rule' propounded by Hacker and followers is by no means set in stone.

While saying that for coordinated NPs following a 'there is/are etc' constructions of type A below are more idiomatic than type B

[A] There was a bottle of wine and several glasses on the table.

[proximity agreement, treating 'there' as the subject]

[B] ?There were a bottle of wine and several glasses on the table.

[agreement as for a coordinated postposed subject] [notice marked by CGEL less usual rather than ungrammatical]

they go on to say: 'plural agreement ... occurs readily in lists: There are still Brown, Jones, Mason and Smith to interview.'

Thus

There were a bottle of wine, two bottles of cider and several glasses on the table.

is certainly licensed.

  • +1 An answer based on research from vetted grammar sources. And helpful and truthful!! – Araucaria Jul 22 '15 at 1:05
  • 1
    Yes, but in your example the conjunction is and rather than or. With or and singular subjects, you need was. You wouldn't say: "There were no man or woman in sight." At least, I wouldn't. – Peter Shor May 5 '17 at 20:48
  • OP asks about and and not or. – Edwin Ashworth May 5 '17 at 22:06
4

Is there a good workaround for this problem...?

There is no problem. Your friend’s sentence conforms perfectly to the rules of Standard English grammar and good writing style. The verb should agree with the first item in the list. I.e.

There is a cat and two dogs.

There are two dogs and a cat.

Your suggested alternative is wrong. If you insist on doing it that way, you should either write:

There is no hardware to purchase, there is no additional software to install and there are no key fobs to worry about.

or:

There is no hardware to purchase and no additional software to install; and there are no key fobs to worry about.

but your friend’s original sentence is better than either of these.

2

I think in this case you could make all of your list items plural:

There are no additional hardware purchases, software installs, or key fobs to worry about.

0

Honestly, your friend is fine. There is nothing wrong with what he wants to write. It's not awkward because the verb conforms to the first item in the list, and the others just follow, so the same person is assumed, regardless of whether they're singular or plural.

There is no problem.

You're not even making a mountain out of a molehill, you're making a mountain out of nothing.

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