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"Both" is used to talk about two things (and not more), but what if one of these things is itself a plural? For instance:

Both the children and the teacher were unhappy about the situation.

Is this grammatically correct?

Of course I could ask the same question if the two things are plurals, as in:

Both the children and the parents were unhappy about the situation.

Or even

Both these and those are great choices.

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    The two “things” may be singular or plural subjects, btw both can be used to refer to more than two things.
    – user 66974
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 16:14
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    Merriam-Webster's randomly selected examples gives "Neither squad has lost an in-state game yet, as both the Grizzlies (9-1) and the Patriots (10-1) each went 3-1 in their respective brackets in the prestigious Tarkanian Classic from Dec. 16-20 in Las Vegas." (Lest there is any doubt, AP Style and CMoS say sports teams are always plural.) But do you consider The Denver Post to be an arbitrator of English grammar?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 17:51
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    ... But no independent (authoritative) support for the legitimacy of 'Both the knives and the fork were missing.' It might be hard to find. Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 18:20
  • @StuartF Interesting example from The Denver Post! But does it mean that "each" can also refer to plurals?? ("... the Grizzlies and the Patriots each went 3-1...").
    – Arthur
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 20:22
  • This is good. Contrast compounds with "either," which take the number of the element closest to the verb, sometimes with cacophonous results.
    – Roister
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 18:28

2 Answers 2

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Yes, that is grammatically correct.

It doesn't matter whether either or both things are singular, plural or even uncountable.

'Both' covers 'this' and 'that' with no care for what 'this' or 'that' is, are or might be. Either 'this' or 'that' - or both - could stand for whole sentences, paragraphs or even chapters and any problem that caused would be not about grammar or even syntax; solely about comprehension.

How is 'Both the children and the teacher were unhappy…' problematic?

Of course you could ask the same question if both things were plural, as in '… the children and the parents…' or '… these and those' and broadly, that's all there is to it.

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Both the children and the teacher were unhappy about the situation.

This is correct, but it sounds quite bad, since you have a singular noun ("the teacher") right next to a plural verb form ("were"). If you reverse the order of the coordinates, it sounds nicer:

Both the teacher and the children were unhappy about the situation.

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    I cannot hear anything bad in the original sentence; it sounds perfectly natural. Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 23:21
  • Then again, we have a much bigger problem... How do we know this doesn’t mean: [Both the children] and [the teacher] were unhappy about the situation.? Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 23:38
  • @TinfoilHat To me the original sentence does sound awkward; I think that the apparent singular/plural mismatch is what the asker is picking up on.
    – alphabet
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 0:24
  • Of course the ambiguity is also a potential issue, depending on context.
    – alphabet
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 0:25
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    Are you somehow implying that you would say "both the child and the teacher was unhappy" if they were both singular? That's wrong; you always use a plural verb after both, and to me it sounds equally good whether you put the plural noun or the singular noun second. Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 12:08

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