It could be a writer–editor maxim. The New York Times
and SATs agreed to disagree with one below, and we may have to do the same with it and others—or at the very least, say it can go either way. As in the past, the answers will come in a separate e-mail this afternoon.
- A box of apples, oranges, and pears (was, were, either was or were) delivered yesterday.
- Some of the chocolate chip cookies (is, are, either is or are) left.
- Neither the words nor the music (is, are, either is or are) familiar.
- None of these crazy ideas (is, are, either is or are) going to work.
- The jury (is, are, either is or are) all in agreement.
- The data (was, were, either was or were) inconclusive.
Thank you all for participating—truly. This e-mail gives me a reason to go down these rabbit holes, so much so that I’ll even spend my weekends working on them (as in the last one, which consumed a whole weekend and was mind-numbingly difficult). Thus far, it has taught me a lot as I hope it has you.
- It is all too easy to get misled by a prepositional phrase's additional information. Box is the true subject in this example. To test, take out the phrase "of apples, oranges, and pears" and see if it makes sense.
A box of apples, oranges, and pears was delivered yesterday.
- Pronouns that specify an indefinite number or amount such as enough, none, all, many, much, and some can be difficult. This is because it is one of the few times you will need to use the prepositional phrase to determine the verb. In this example, the subject is not so much some as it is cookies.
Some of the chocolate chip cookies are left.
- With neither … nor or either … or, if both subjects are plural, you need a plural verb; if both subjects are singular, you need a singular verb. If one subject is singular and one is plural, the verb agrees with the closest subject.
Neither the words nor the music is familiar.
- Despite none being an indefinite pronoun, some consider it to be singular—always. It used to be even graded that way on the SATs. This was at a time when the ’70s New York Times' style guide took the stance that it was plural except when emphasizing the idea of not one or not any. Today, most style guides say the verb needs to be based off the prepositional phrase as described in the answer for number two.
None of these crazy ideas (either is or are) going to work.
- Mass nouns are, for the most part, singular, but writers are able to focus a reader’s attention on the individual people or items that compose the group by using a plural verb. The jury (either is or are) all in agreement.
- Agenda, agendum; data, datum; insignia, insigne; media, medias, medium; opera, opus; stamina, stamen, these words with Latin roots and their irregular plural forms were once standard, but in today's common usage, the singular form often doubles as the plural form.
The data (either was or were) inconclusive.