John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley (1962):

"That discussion, however, did not go into the life span of journeys. This seems to be variable and unpredictable. Who has not known a journey to be over and dead before the traveller returns? The reverse is also true: many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased."

Why did Steinbeck use "have (ceased)" in the above quote rather than "has (ceased)," which is the third-person singular present form of the (auxiliary) verb and agrees with the person of the subject of the clause "movement," which is an uncountable noun?

I supposed, judging from the use of the rather archaic literary expression "Many a...," as well as the placement of the sentence being after a colon, making it stand out from the rest of the text, that the verb "have" is in the present subjunctive mood, which is also an archaic literary expression, as in the following older examples:

  • The Magazine of Science, and School of Arts Volume 3 (1842): "If it be exposed to heat , after it have undergone this change, it swells up...."
  • Australia and New Zealand (1876): “even after he have maintained himself for some weeks in each year....”
  • The Lutheran Witness Volumes 3-5 (1884): “and Grasshopper he never put up food for winter; and so when winter come and he got nothing to eat....”
  • Come winter, we'll have to pay a good deal more for vegetables and fruit. ['When winter comes,...']

Is my conjecture correct? If not, for what else reason did Steinbeck use "have"? Could it be some form of ellipsis or a simple case of typo?

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    Many a is formal but it's not archaic: it's found in plenty of 21st century texts (example).
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 14:06
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    He took them for a 'they' instead of an 'it' (as suggested). And Steinbeck is of biblical proportions whenever possible, huge, even on vacation. Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 19:37
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    I suspect the quote from the Lutheran Witness is African-American Vernacular English or an imitation thereof, not a subjunctive.
    – DLosc
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 20:36

3 Answers 3


It doesn't need to be subjunctive; it's a plural verb because it's a plural subject:

movement in time and space

can be taken as a shortened form of

movement in time and movement in space

with the repeated "movement" elided.

  • 1
    @Expressivist: That would perhaps be a more usual (and less "literary") construction, but it would express something slightly different. "Movements" (plural) suggests a series of movements considered separate/distinct; the singular is used when referring to the idea of movement, or to movements that are considered as part of one whole.
    – psmears
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 14:18
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    Can you find authoritative support (other than Steinbeck) for the acceptability of the deletion 'movement in time and space have ceased' from 'movement in time and movement in space have ceased'? 'Movement, both in time and space, has ceased' might be a better way of avoiding one problem or the other ('misagreement' / pluralising what is better kept as a noncount usage). Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 14:27
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    @Expressivist: I've tried searching for examples, to check how common this is in different types of writing, but it's surprisingly hard to search for (nor do I have a lot of time to try, sadly). I'd say it comes across very literary in style, so I'd avoid it (and use something like what EdwinAshworth suggested) in other contexts.
    – psmears
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 14:46
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    It is an extraordinary usage. It is indeed, as already suggested, highly literary. What is it doing? It brings the reader up short: in its three final iambs as well as in its sense. Travel happens in time as well as in space. And not only in the obvious sense that the physical act of travelling takes time as well as covering distance. The depth of travel includes the stationary time in places, meeting people and roaming in cities. This is an opinion for what little it is worth, but I think it conveys more and more deeply and briefly than strict grammar might permit.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 16:16
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    @EdwinAshworth: another example, found on the Internet "lack of time and motivation are the most common barriers that inhibit exercise adherence." You can't say "lacks" because "lack" is a mass noun. And you can't say "is" because the end of the sentence treats "lack of time" and "lack of motivation" as two different things. Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 13:57

I don't think that Steinbeck is using the subjunctive mood here. In current English, that mood doesn't normally appear after the subordinator "after". (Your second and third examples, which use "after" and "when", were written many decades before Steinbeck's text, so they are of little relevance. The first and fourth examples use the subjunctive mood for very different reasons.)

I'd also argue against assuming that some elements have been omitted ("after movement in time and [[movement in]] space have ceased"), as another answer suggests. It would be correct, for example, to write "the house of Alice and Bob is green" though writing "the house of Alice and Bob are green" would normally be considered an error. (Note that the same is true even if we use a mass noun: *"Luggage from Hermes and Coach are stylish." *"Research into gravity and electromagnetism are ongoing.")

I don't see any other reason that might justify "have ceased", so in this case I think that Steinbeck (or perhaps an editor, publisher, etc.) simply made a grammar mistake. It happens.

  • 1
    @Exp I expect that in that case, more people would consider that sentence to be correct than otherwise, but I still think that they would constitute a small minority. Americans (and I'm sure other English speakers, too) are taught from a young age that such sentences are wrong, and everyone knows that no writer is infallible. Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 8:39
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    @Exp: That example is different, because "house" is a count noun, and "movement" (in this instance) is a mass noun. So there is a semantic reason for wanting to use the singular, which does not apply in the "house" case.
    – psmears
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 9:26
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    @psmears Thank you for pointing that out. I've edited my answer to account for the use of a mass noun. Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 9:48
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    I'd agree; I'd say that Steinbeck was pushing notional agreement too far. With more common non-count usages, we wouldn't say 'Work in the mines and quarries have virtually ceased' or 'Money in ISAs and related products are tax-shrouded'. Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 10:35
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    @MarcInManhattan I would consider "research into gravity and electromagnetism are ongoing" acceptable but to have a different meaning than "research into gravity and electromagnetism is ongoing". The first makes it clear that these two areas of research are ongoing separately, whereas the second is consistent with "gravity and electromagnetism" being a single area of research. Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 12:21

psmears’s answer gives the somewhat plausible suggestion that movement in time and space can be read as an ellipsis for movement in time and movement in space, giving have a plural subject.

But it seems to me at least as plausible that this is simply an error, by either Steinbeck or his typesetters. Intentional ellipsis of this form is extremely rare, even in literary usage (as discussed in comments to psmears’ answer) — but seen as an error, this is a very common kind in both speech and writing, mistakenly inflecting a verb to agree with a noun phrase linearly adjacent to it (the plural “…time and space…”) instead of its intended syntactic subject (the singular “…movement…”).

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