"Is" or "are"?

Kirk   Fri Mar 31, 2006 6:06 am GMT
<<In the case of the aforementioned way of conjugating verbs, it is definitely rule-driven, it is just that the rule(s) behind it happen to be different from those specified in prescriptive standards and those used by other dialects which follow the more conservative pattern of verb conjugation. >>

Exactly. And those are even standard in written British English anyway. I've come across such usage in formal texts of British origin quite often.

<<One thing that must be strongly stated is that all language varieties operate according to clear rules, even if these rules are never written or standardized at any point. Just because these rules are different from those which have been decreed as so by prescriptivists at some point or another and likely have never been put down to pen (or have only been written down by linguists) does not mean that they are not rules. >>

Definitely. I think some people assume that the only rules out there are the ones they learned in grammar classes in school and that other language is somehow not rule bound (!) or at the best unfavorable and peripheral to "real" language. Absolutely false. That would imply that languages which had no written form or people who didn't know how to write somehow were speaking languages with "no rules," which is clearly absurd. Linguists know full well that all language is rule-bound whether or not the rules are consciously noticed by people or written down and regardless of whether or not specific examples of usage are approved of by prescriptivist sources for formal written norms.

<<Such ideas are likely tied into the use of such forms in dialects where such forms are to be found today, but the initial origination of such forms is likely to really not be clear at all, as is the case with many phonological changes, which have seemingly occurred just because. >>

Yes, language change doesn't have to "make sense." Language change is a mysterious yet fascinating being who rarely if ever consults people on the matter. If such were the case languages wouldn't be changing--people have tried to rein in language change over the centuries and it never works, no matter how hard they try or how strange a new usage may initially appear.
Travis   Fri Mar 31, 2006 6:26 am GMT
>>Exactly. And those are even standard in written British English anyway. I've come across such usage in formal texts of British origin quite often.<<

That is what amazes me about all of this. The new way of using conjugating verbs for collective noun subjects in English English has already practically become part of formal literary British English. As a result it seems quite silly to make some big deal about it being somehow "incorrect", as if it is already being used as part of the formal literary language, anyone who still calls such "incorrect" is most likely just some intransigent reactionary who refuses to acknowledge language change. This kind of thing sounds to me like a less extreme and dialect group-limited analogue of, say, insisting that English still has a T-V distinction or like.
KG   Tue Feb 13, 2007 2:00 am GMT
You folks who believe it's OK to change the English language here in America are those who make it diifficult for children to learn it in our school systems. Please, don't bastardize the language any further. Preserve what we have and be proud of it. Too much is falling away because of those who don't abide by the rules because they're too lazy or stupid to have learned in the first place. I don't care about what they're doing in other countries. Remember your English teachers. They'd be proud.
Guest   Tue Feb 13, 2007 2:23 am GMT
But Travis is right. What you call bastardised has become "correct" in formal British English. Look back at Kirk's examples.

And the original question:
US: a coalition of (...) is
UK: a coalition of (...) are
13RE   Tue Feb 13, 2007 10:04 am GMT
Some very good commentary here, especially from Travis.

Personally, I've never had much use for the word "rules" when it comes to determining what is actually going on in language. I prefer the concept that language and dialect groups have particular "requirements" that lead to communication.

The "is/are" argument is an old one, and fairly pointless. So attempts to prevent native speakers from using "are" based on grammatical "rules" are fairly futile. Nay, probably Sisyphean.

I rather suspect that the simple "requirement" kicking in here for most speakers (including myself - I routinely get into these "is/are" situations when speaking) is one of agreement by proximity in that, because the verb immediately follows a group of plural words, the original singular subject ("coalition") gets lost in the shuffle.

Fretting about the state of English is nothing new. We've been doing it since English began. English isn't collapsing or decaying; it's evolving. It may not be evolving in ways we like but guess what? That's tough. I'm sure back there in history someone grumbled about the loss of the dative noun inflection and the imminent destruction of the language!

Many grammarians would no doubt be happy if English remained suspended in aspic.

If so, I suggest that they focus their efforts on something like Esperanto instead.
DX   Wed Feb 14, 2007 8:32 am GMT
I think whether to use "are" or "is" depends on how you interpret the sentence.

"All over the country, a coalition of homeowners and anarchists, NIMBYs and internationalists are/is mustering to fight the greatest future cause of global warming: the growth of aviation."

I mean, the coalition could consist of all the mentioned groups (homeowners and anarchists, NIMBYs and internationalists). But the sentence could also mean that there is a coalition of homeowners and anachists alone. So there are also NIMBYs and internationalist who are mustering to fight, but they are not part of the coalition. So then you would use "are" there.

Benquasha: I think this is what Guest meant when he put the semi-colon there.