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Hi,

Here is the sentence in question:

"Most of those oyster pirates died in jail, or was shot or drowned, and one or two was hanged over to San Quentin."
Was should be were to go with two. The journalist who used was must have a reason! Could it be an idiom? If so, I could not find an online reference that addresses its usage. If it is an idom, are there others that look plural but may be singular, besides those treated as 'a collection'?

Thanks,
Hoa Thai
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Comments  
Hi,

Perhaps not all journalists are perfect. "Hanged over to San Quentin" ain't too good neither. (hanged at San Quentin - taken to San Quentin)

I saw a dictionary reference someone posted in another thread, and I think it applies: "When there is a mixture of singular and plural subjects, the verb traditionally agrees with the subject that is closer to it." One was hanged. Two were hanged. One or two were hanged. Either the James Brothers or their cousin was hanged. (The reference involved "either," which may be a special case. I'm not sure.)

I have a feeling your journalist is a novelist who's trying to put a little local color into his work by using bad language.

Regards, - A.
AvangiHi,

Perhaps not all journalists are perfect. "Hanged over to San Quentin" ain't too good neither. (hanged at San Quentin - taken to San Quentin)

I saw a dictionary reference someone posted in another thread, and I think it applies: "When there is a mixture of singular and plural subjects, the verb traditionally agrees with the subject that is closer to it." One was hanged. Two were hanged. One or two were hanged. Either the James Brothers or their cousin was hanged. (The reference involved "either," which may be a special case. I'm not sure.)

I have a feeling your journalist is a novelist who's trying to put a little local color into his work by using bad language.

Regards, - A.
Hi Avangi,

The grammar rule is clear. Therefore, when I saw the sentence, I was taken aback by the use of was. I also thought 'hanged' must be 'handed'. Using the key "two was hanged over to," I found this webpage: http://www.jacklondons.net/first_and_Last_chance.html . Perhaps, you might like to give it a look. Moreover, I also found this:

"A decade ago, one or two was the norm. The of at also is up to a dozen a year, as is ," (The Chronicle of Higher Education).

You can find the text shown up in Google cache: http://72.14.235.104/search?q=cache:eldBHBR-iVkJ:chronicle.com/che-data/articles.dir/art-42.dir/issue-21.dir/21a03101.htm+%22one+or+two+was%22&hl=vi&ct=clnk&cd=17&gl=vn&client=firefox-a
Amyway, if it is not an idom, I use were instead.

Thanks ,
Hoa Thai
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AvangiHi,

Perhaps not all journalists are perfect. "Hanged over to San Quentin" ain't too good neither. (hanged at San Quentin - taken to San Quentin)

I saw a dictionary reference someone posted in another thread, and I think it applies: "When there is a mixture of singular and plural subjects, the verb traditionally agrees with the subject that is closer to it." One was hanged. Two were hanged. One or two were hanged. Either the James Brothers or their cousin was hanged. (The reference involved "either," which may be a special case. I'm not sure.)

I have a feeling your journalist is a novelist who's trying to put a little local color into his work by using bad language.

Regards, - A.
"Most of those oyster pirates died in jail, or was shot or drowned, and one or two was hanged over to San Quentin." I agree. I'm surprised this use of 'those' wasn't 'them', to keep to the nature of the character.
Good morning, Hoa Thai,

I appreciate the research. I think your second example is a little bit different, but I'm not sure I can explain it. The gist of it is, ten years ago you might have gotten one or two [things] while now you get twelve. Since the verb is "to be" you can exchange the subject with the predicate nominative and the meaning is the same: "Betty is my sister. My sister is Betty." So your sentence could read, "A decade ago, the norm [the normal amount] was one or two." Or you could say, "The amount was two or three." "Norm" and "amount" are singular nouns and would take the singular verb "was." I think it would be like saying, "The score was two or three," and then turning it around and saying, "Two or three was the score." Nobody would say, "Two or three were the score." But I don't know how to justify it formally.

Regards, - A.

(Thanks, Philip)

P.S. Looking back at Jack London's piece, we missed one of his baddies: "Most of those oyster pirates was shot or died in jail." "Most" is a plural noun, like "many", and takes the plural verb, "were."
Philip
AvangiHi,

Perhaps not all journalists are perfect. "Hanged over to San Quentin" ain't too good neither. (hanged at San Quentin - taken to San Quentin)

I saw a dictionary reference someone posted in another thread, and I think it applies: "When there is a mixture of singular and plural subjects, the verb traditionally agrees with the subject that is closer to it." One was hanged. Two were hanged. One or two were hanged. Either the James Brothers or their cousin was hanged. (The reference involved "either," which may be a special case. I'm not sure.)

I have a feeling your journalist is a novelist who's trying to put a little local color into his work by using bad language.

Regards, - A.
"Most of those oyster pirates died in jail, or was shot or drowned, and one or two was hanged over to San Quentin." I agree. I'm surprised this use of 'those' wasn't 'them', to keep to the nature of the character.
Apparently, this quote was uttered by a friend of Jack London's (John Heinold) and he does indeed use them rather
than those in a later sentence (from the same interview):

"He tells all about it in Tales of the Fish Patrol — most of them stories is drawed from his own experience, and mighty interestin'."

Note also the "is drawed" -- Heinold appears to have very a very "colorful" style.
lol
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Hi all,

After hours scanning through hundreds of hits on the Internet, I finally found an article at http://www.proofreadnow.com/grammarrules.html . Here is an extract:

"More than one
can only be plural in meaning but nevertheless often takes a singular verb, either modifying a noun or standing alone: More than one child was crying; More than one was crying. This and similar illogical uses (such as One or two was hostile) are idioms."

Best,
Hoa Thai
Oh my gosh,
I read this thread and I got confused, darn, LOL.

I always use a plural verb with "one or two": One or two (things/people) were in the second room.

But I don't know what to do with "More than one"...
I guess I would always use a singular verb, but, you know, when you read these kinds of threads...

There was/were more than one soldier in there.


Ok, it must be because it's late... because on second thought I'm almost sure I would always use a singular verb with "more than one", and a plural verb with "one or two".

Emotion: smile
KooyeenOh my gosh,
I read this thread and I got confused, darn, LOL.

I always use a plural verb with "one or two": One or two (things/people) were in the second room.

But I don't know what to do with "More than one"...
I guess I would always use a singular verb, but, you know, when you read these kinds of threads...

There was/were more than one soldier in there.


Ok, it must be because it's late... because on second thought I'm almost sure I would always use a singular verb with "more than one", and a plural verb with "one or two".

Emotion: smile

"Confused," that is exactly how I feel. I often feel comfortable with what I have learned; then suddenly, someone springs up, "Catch you!" What an awful feeling! (especially, when there is a debate among the higher minds). But that is what learning enrichment means to me.

Best,
Hoa Thai
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