Monday, August 27, 2012

Tough verb agreement question

Ugly sentence alert! But the question is:  Attract or attracts?

It's more memoir and non-fiction that attract lawsuits.

It's more memoir and non-fiction that attracts lawsuits.

Ruling and rationale?



Natalie said...

Compound subject means "attract," doesn't it? If you take the beginning stuff out and read it as, "Memoir and nonfiction attract lawsuits," that helps. Just like when trying to decide between "Me and so-and-so" and "So-and-so and I," you take away the so-and-so and see what's correct. Doesn't sound great either way, though.

Edittorrent said...

I know. It's an ugly sentence anyway. I go back and forth. "It" is singular, but "memoir and nonfiction" are plural.

I'd go with you, because "that attract" is an adjectival clause modifying "memoir and non-fiction."

Other ideas though? I just feel like it's the other way, but I can't justify it.

Laura K. Curtis said...

I agree that it's "attract."

I think the confusion comes from the "it's" at the beginning of the sentence. The whole thing is poorly constructed, and you want to make the verb agree with the singular "it," but since your "it" in this case is collective...

Far better to eliminate the "it's more" at the beginning and simplify, I would think, and go with something like "Memoir and non-fiction are more apt to attract lawsuits."

Michael McKee said...

This seems to be one of those cases of damned if you do, damned if you don't. A good editor would have me rewrite either of those sentences.

Lauren Harris said...

To me, if you use "attract", you're making "It" obsolete and might as well be more concise and say "memoir and nonfiction attract sales". By using "It's" at all, importance is placed on "It" as a subject. Even though it takes the verb "is" afterward, I would say to use it as the primary subject for both verbs.

I thought this would be an obvious answer until I started thinking about it. Now I just agree with Michael: rewrite it to something cleaner.

Iola said...

Isn't "memoir and non-fiction" redundant? Shouldn't all memoir be non-fiction? If you delete memoir, then non-fiction is singular.

Edittorrent said...

Iola, we think that memoir ought to be non-fiction, but these days... :)

I think I'm going to use the sentence in this sentence class I'm teaching to see what the students come up with. But yes, I'd say rewrite!!!


Anonymous said...

I would go with "attracts" because memoir and non fiction are plural. If you were referring to a particular memoir and a particular novel...then it would make sense (to me) to use the singular verb. That's jmho.

Nonna said...

Well, attract is the plural verb and since the subject of the predicate nominative clause contains two items, it needs a plural verb. I agree that the easiest way to tell by the sound is to leave off the beginning and start with "memoir and nonfiction." Another reason to rewrite is that a "being verb" sentence of this type is a very weak construction to begin with. Much better to leave off "it is." Even if this is part of a more extensive thought comparing fiction as a legal landmine, the sentence works better without "it is."