What is the correct form:

The President and host greets the guests at the door.


The President and host greet the guests at the door.

I am told that if we do not add the definite article 'the' in front of 'host', then 'The President and host' refers to the same person. Is that assumption correct?


I'm not sure the presence or absence of the definite article has anything to do with it. The point is that the sentence or immediate context needs to make it clear that they are indeed the same person.

  • 1
    cf "The husband and wife greet the guest at the door." Even in these modern days the husband and wife are rarely the same person. – Wudang Jul 10 '12 at 12:03
  • Agreed. Assuming that President and host are different people, they could be replaced with 'they': 'They greet the guests... ' – Barry Brown Jul 10 '12 at 15:39

The following versions are syntactically unambiguous and grammatically correct. In different contexts each can be semantically correct (factual): the first two are factual in a context where President and host are one person; else the latter two are factual.

The President and host greets the guests.
The President and the host greets the guests.
The President and host greet the guests.
The President and the host greet the guests.

In spite of the first two versions being "correct", they are quite likely to be misunderstood. After being led up the garden path by an apparently-plural subject, one hits the rock of a singular verb. Is it one's first response to say, "Oh, I misunderstood, they meant the President is the host"? Of course not; the first thought to mind is "Oh, look at this subject-verb disagreement; this writer's illiterate." The following avoid that problem. Of course many other rewordings exist that may better suit a given context.

As host, the President greets the guests.
The host (the President) greets the guests.


Just to link the above answer back to the question, the presence of two articles, e.g., the husband and the wife clearly indicates a compound subject that makes two separate references. Grammatically speaking, the absence of a second article, e.g., the husband and wife should indicate that both references are the same (singular) because singular subjects are almost always accompanied by a pre-nominal modifier of some sort. The only possible exception to this (that I can think of) would occur when both references of a compound subject are definite and the second article, being redundant, is somehow deleted in the prosody. Were that the case, however, the number agreement of the verb should establish the number of references that constitute the subject. (Subject-verb agreement only means that the feature, in this case NUMBER, must be identical for both; it does not mean that the verb is obliged to agree with the subject.)

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