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I was watching an interview with Nicola Coughlan on Youtube when she said the following phrase: "It's just salty cheese. I mean... that is two things I do like, so I'm not mad at it."

I've noticed recently that this is a common structure used by native speakers of English but I can't find anywhere the explanation behind this. Can someone please try to explain to me why is it ok to say "that is two things I do like" instead of "those are two things I do like"?

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  • I suggest "That is [a list of] two things I like." Whereas "Those are two things" refers to them directly. Or "That [meal] is two things I like." Jun 28, 2023 at 11:37
  • A different usage (= ie): Using 'that is' in a sentence. // I'd say 'It's the Smiths' is unremarkable, 'There's the clouds we were told to expect' not too problematic ... but I'd prefer 'that makes ...' here. Expressions like these (especially the contracted forms) are being bleached of number-specificity. Jun 28, 2023 at 11:59
  • The metaphor "salty cheese" was applied to something. Was that something two things? It's difficult to interpret this without some context to suggest whether "two things" refers to "salty cheese," but if it does then I expect that the two things are cheese and saltiness.
    – phoog
    Jun 28, 2023 at 12:34
  • 1: Are we sure she says "that is two things I do like" and not "that has two things"? 2: People say stuff without being textbook models of language. Jun 28, 2023 at 13:11
  • @YosefBaskin As that is two things I don't like is perfectly grammatical, there's no reason to think that's not what was said! Jun 28, 2023 at 13:38

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When you have a copula, and you specifically change from plural to singular to capture the essence of the phrase as, say, a unified activity, rather than a collection, the term is called synesis:

In linguistics, synesis (from Greek σύνεσις 'unification, meeting, sense, conscience, insight, realization, mind, reason') is a traditional grammatical/rhetorical term referring to agreement (the change of a word form based on words relating to it) due to meaning.

A clear example is given by WP:

One hundred dollars is the cost of rent.

One would expect syntactically 'dollars are', but here the emphasis is not on a collection of dollars, but a single payment.

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    Thank you for the reply. During my online research, I ended up finding a similar explanation but couldn't find a name for that concept.
    – Marcio D.
    Jun 30, 2023 at 11:32

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