Wednesday, September 21, 2005

reader query

Every year there was more traffic, more people, more houses.

I think the verb should be "were." What do you think?


John B. said...

'Was' is for 1st or 3rd person singular (I/he/she/it was), 'were is for others (you, we, they were).

'Were' should be correct.

A better structure for the sentence would also seem to be, "More people, more traffic, and more houses were there every year."

Joe said...

"Every year there were more traffic" is a terrible verbal speed bump. To me, that's clearly not right, even if it is correct.

"Was" sounds better, even if it's grammatically incorrect. And when style conflicts with grammar, I go with John's rule... restructure the sentence.

(Point of clarification: British English does use plurals for collective nouns. Is "traffic" a collective noun? Not that it matters in American English...)

Tippecanoe said...

I think you have to include the rest of the sentence that is implied:

"Every year there was more traffic, more people, more houses than the year before."

In that case, "year" is singular.

Bartleby said...

The singular or plural status of "year" is irrelevant. The verb is "is" in some form ("was" or "were"), and the subjects are "traffic," "people," and "houses."

"Were" is correct here because of the plural nature of the list of subjects. I also agree that "were" is awkward. The awkwardness is caused by the order of the list. A coward, such as myself, might evade the issue by writing, "Every year there were more houses, more people, and more traffic than the year before."

Rachel said...

According to some rule (don't want to bring out the grammar books this early in the morning, though I'm thinking it's Chicago Manual of Style), the verb may match (in number) the closest item in an unstructured list. Since "traffic" in our American English is usually paired with a singular verb, "was" rather than "were." Not a hard and fast rule, bu more of a decision left up to the writer, though. There are some of those in grammar, really.

Hugh said...

Wonderful discussion. Given the contents of the list you could have a singular subject, if the items are all connected

Faith, Hope, and Charity were the values espoused by the commune.

Faith, Hope, and Charity was scheduled to play Roncalli tonight but the game was rained out.

I know it's a bit of a cop-out, but that's what's wonderful about English.

Bonus Question: Yes, those are two Catholic schools. Who or what was (were?) Roncalli?

John B. said...


Cardinal Angelo Roncalli, who later took the name of Pope John XXIII...

Tippecanoe said...

I think I'm going to defer to Rachel on the "traffic" point, and Bartleby on the identification of the correct subject.

"Traffic" is causing all of the trouble.

Is this from a test?

Bartleby said...

I, too, defer to Rachel about the "traffic." It would be too difficult to make the pen write, the fingers type, or the tongue pronounce: there were more traffic, etc.

If this was a test, I hope I get to drop my lowest score for the semester.

TeacherRefPoet said...

A bit windy, but nobody has suggested this correct sentence:

"Ever;y year, there was more traffic, were more people, were more houses."

Bartleby said...

Or ...

Arrrrrgggghh! She couldn't stand it any more! There was no respite. Every year! More people! More houses! More traffic! It was driving her insane! Soon ... she'd be reduced to a quivering, NASCAR-watching blob!!!

On second thought, maybe that's not an improvement.

Hugh said...

Or this:


Only if you're writing on the internets, I guess.

John B: Somehow, I guessed that you'd get that. . . . :-)