Recently I've read an article from CNN. I'm confused with the following sentence:

But the lawmakers’ letter highlights how worries about data access by foreign adversaries extends beyond TikTok and encompasses some of the largest social media platforms.

I think the subject of the verb "extends" is "worries", but "worries" is a plural noun. Should it be "extend"?

4 Answers 4


The word "worries" is the subject of the dependent clause begun by "how" just before it. Taken alone, the verb "extends" which follows might logically be thought as incorrect, with "extend" the form that would agree with "worries." However, this clause is complicated by the fact that the noun actually is the entire idea expressed as "worries about data access by foreign adversaries." As an idea, it is singular--unless one interprets, based on the plural "worries," that it entails a plurality of ideas.

While it sounds to my ear like a typo, I can justify its current state grammatically. I am not sure how "solid" the case is, however.

  • 6
    It's almost certainly a mistake, but I wonder if the writer made "extends" agree with "data access" - that sort of error is common, where people make the verb agree with a closely preceding noun even if it isn't the subject of the verb.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 14 at 11:17
  • Or it could be an attempt at agreement with letter.
    – Henry
    Feb 14 at 11:54
  • 2
    A respectable analysis. The issue extends and encompasses. Feb 14 at 17:13

Whether or not it’s a typo, it does not conform to the grammar of standard written English. What I mean by that is that I expect a professional editor would correct “extends” and “encompasses” to “extend” and “encompass”. Or this could be used as an example of a sentence with erroneous subject-verb agreement in a grammar test in a school setting. You’ve identified the issue correctly.

Notional agreement definitely exists in some circumstances in standard English, but it goes too far to say that notional agreement means that any noun phrase that can be thought of as representing a single idea can always take singular agreement.

Number agreement is sometimes not as immediately apparent in long sentences with multiple noun phrases as it is in shorter, simpler sentences. So let's consider a shorter sentence: “Their worries extends beyond TikTok”. I think this sentence would be found unacceptable by most speakers, regardless of whether we think of "their worries" as expressing a single idea. Therefore, I don't think notional agreement fully explains (or excuses) the use of "extends" in the longer sentence either.

The linked Merriam-Webster article ("On Notional Agreement, the Majority Speak") mentions another relevant consideration, the "principle of proximity". "Their worries extends" sounds especially bad because the disagreeing words are right next to each other: in the longer sentence, they are separated by a fair amount of material. But I don't think the distance between "worries" and "extend(s)" is sufficient reason to justify the lack of agreement in terms of standard English grammar. As a general rule, as long as "worries" remains the subject, adding other words before or after “worries” shouldn’t make a difference to the number agreement of the verb. I would say that proximity agreement in standard English mainly comes into play in clauses where the subject is a collective noun modified by a prepositional phrase in of, as in this example given by the article: "A crowd of revelers were approaching". But "worries about data access by foreign adversaries" is not this kind of noun phrase.

In practice, if the sentence in the CNN article comes across as acceptable to some (or even many?) educated native speakers, it is arguable whether it is appropriate to refer to it as an "error". But for the reasons above, it comes across as an error to me (as it did to you), and I think a non-negligible portion of other English speakers would have the same reaction.


I'm hoping I can add something to Biblasia's answer and Yosef Baskin's comment. It's not a typo or a mistake.

If each and every specific worry was extending and encompassing, they would "extend" and "encompass". But some worries might not, some might be less significant, and additional specific worries might occur. Instead, it's [the concept that there are a number of worries] that "extends" and "encompasses".

This question has been flagged as a duplicate of another question about compound nouns, but I think the answer given there also applies here.

English (and particularly journalistic English) has a nasty habit of dropping words that it doesn't think are relevant and/or make the sentence more complex to read. The original quote might have been phrased :

But the lawmakers’ letter highlights how the concept of worries about data access by foreign adversaries extends beyond TikTok and encompasses some of the largest social media platforms.


This is indeed a typo. What's relevant is not whether the subject express a singular idea, but whether the subject itself is singular in form.

Writers often make the mistake of having a verb agree with the wrong noun; often this is either the first noun of the sentence (here "letter") or a related word in the same clause (here "data access").

Alternatively, the writer may have been confused by the fact that "worry" is often used as an uncountable noun and thus treated as singular.

  • 2
    I don't think it is a typo. The construction used in this sentence is quite common and made intentionally. I would probably word it the same way intentionally.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 15 at 19:23
  • 1
    @ohwilleke I haven't seen (or at least haven't noticed) this construction before; do you have any references/examples?
    – alphabet
    Feb 15 at 21:38

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