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Grammar question

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YA & Spec Fic Writer
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I'm going through copyedits and came across a grammar change that sounds odd to me, but isn't something I can easily look up.  Hoping Blueboarders can advise me!

The sentence originally was "In a world where there was no music, no audiences, and no stages..."

It's been changed to "In a world where there were no music, no audiences, and no stages..."

I understand theoretically changing it to a plural verb because the second and third items in the list are plural, but the first item is singular, which I think is throwing it off.  Is one or the other definitely correct?  Or maybe I should change the sentence so they're all singular or all plural to avoid the problem?
#1 - July 13, 2012, 03:04 PM
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GIVE UP THE GHOST
Fallen World series
Earth & Sky trilogy
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It's my understanding that in such a case, you are supposed to match the verb with the closest (nearest in the sentence) subject.

In this case, because music is closest and music is singular, we'd say that there "was no music, no audiences, and no stages."

I could be completely wrong--I'd have to look it up (going to in just a second!).

But I do admit, it sounds a bit awkward, and I think "there was no music, no audience, and no stage" might work better for me.
#2 - July 13, 2012, 03:14 PM

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Thanks!  It makes much more sense for "audiences" and "stages" to be plural in context, but it's occurred to me I could change "music" to "songs" and that would fix everything.  :)
#3 - July 13, 2012, 03:20 PM
YA paranormal, sci fi, & fantasy:
GIVE UP THE GHOST
Fallen World series
Earth & Sky trilogy
A MORTAL SONG
http://www.megancrewe.com

I agree that you should match the verb "was" with the closest subject "music" to make it sound nicer. Unless this sentence somehow falls into the territory of subjunctive mood? Then you would use "were" with even a singular subject.

But I would try going with "In a world with no music, etc."
#4 - July 13, 2012, 03:24 PM
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I think I was confused and thinking of the either/or and neither/nor scenario when I posted above about the closest subject, but yes--"songs" could work, or I like Whizbee's phrasing, too.
#5 - July 13, 2012, 03:26 PM

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Those nouns are connected by AND, not OR, so the list takes a plural regardless of the items on it. It sounds weird, but it's right the way the copy editor suggested.
#6 - July 13, 2012, 03:38 PM
Kell Andrews
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Those nouns are connected by AND, not OR, so the list takes a plural regardless of the items on it. It sounds weird, but it's right the way the copy editor suggested.

So if you had three singular items in a list it would still be 'were'??? As in,

In a world where there were no dog, cat and donkey

??? Shoorly not. That sounds all wrong to me. I'm now also confused as to why it would be 'and' in some instances and 'or' in others.

In a world where there were no dog, cat or donkey
In a world where there was no dog, cat or donkey

Oh dear. Very confused now.
#7 - July 13, 2012, 06:01 PM

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I think Whizbee's suggestion works--"In a world with no music, etc."

Or your suggestion, Megan, to change it to--"In a world where there were no songs, no audiences, and no stages..."

Another possibility would be just to change the order of the list--"In a world where there were no no audiences, no stages, and no music..."
 
#8 - July 13, 2012, 07:15 PM

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I believe the change could be due to the subjunctive tense being used (eg "if I were a rich man..") which relates to a supposition or "if" type of scenario, and not to whether the nouns are singular or plural. Correct me if I'm wrong though! :)
#9 - July 14, 2012, 03:14 AM
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But if you reverse it, it's clearer which verb to use:

No music, stages, and audiences were there.
No stages, audiences, and music were there.
No cat, dog, and donkey were there.

The sentence may or may not be subjunctive, depending on context describing whether it's what is or what could be, but it is PLURAL.
#10 - July 14, 2012, 03:36 AM
Kell Andrews
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THE BOOK DRAGON, Sterling, October 2, 2018
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But if you reverse it, it's clearer which verb to use:

No music, stages, and audiences were there.
No stages, audiences, and music were there.
No cat, dog, and donkey were there.

The sentence may or may not be subjunctive, depending on context describing whether it's what is or what could be, but it is PLURAL.

Ah! That sounds sensible. And if I switch 'and' for 'or' is is still plural?

Sorry, Megan, I hope you don't mind if I hijack your thread to further my knowledge!
#11 - July 14, 2012, 05:06 AM

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Whizbee's suggestion is a perfect fix, and less wordy. "In a world with no music, etc."
#12 - July 14, 2012, 05:09 AM
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Whizbee's suggestion is a perfect fix, and less wordy. "In a world with no music, etc."

Yes.

One tiny nitpick and only because we are talking grammar: it's subjunctive mood.
#13 - July 15, 2012, 01:42 PM

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