Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Continuing _____

Perhaps the closest thing to a coin-toss question in the whole "singular or plural?" realm is choice posed by the word "series."

A series of programs ___ examining the issue of immigration policy.

Is? Are? Both, really: The series is examining, and so are the programs. But it's the series that we're really talking about, so is works better.

A series of explosions ____ rocked the city in the past week.

This one is easier: The explosions did the rocking, not the series, so make it have.


Lauren Swartzmiller said...

When in doubt
Leave it out
So long as the sentence
has the same clout

"A series of explosions rocked the city in the last week"

I know the luxury of omission isn't always there. The first example wouldn't work at all without the is or are decision being made. But sometimes, even in a moment of pre-coffee haze (like now), a simpler alternative can be found.

Bill said...

This will be its own entry at some point: Always assume that I'm dealing with what I'm dealing with, not looking to rewrite the example sentence I pulled out of my behind. Sorry to be rude, but it gets silly when I'm trying to debate the fine points of, say, "black" vs. "African-American" and the solutions are always "But why are so obsessed with race anyway?" and "Better to be specific, as in 'His great-great-grandfather was from Lagos, which was then the capital of Nigeria.'"

tongue-tied said...

I agree with your rulings on these sentences. Here's a slightly different angle on how to think about this: In your first example, "series" refers to something planned and executed as a unit, so it's intuitive to think of it as singular. In the second, it refers to a sequence of possibly unrelated events, so plural makes more sense.

Bill said...

Well put, TT. Thanks.

Lauren Swartzmiller said...

Not a rude response, Sir, only gently admonishing. In my post-coffee state, I recognize that I wrote too soon and should have come back later and simply appreciated the point of the entry and its delivery as I do now.

Tyler Gould said...

I had some trouble with your second example until I tried replacing the word "series" with "lot" and "bunch."

I'm a currently a computer science student, but I'm considering changing my major to journalism. Your blog is an interesting read for a budding grammarian!

Dr. Zoom said...


What if it's the fact that it's a series of explosions, rather than an isolated incident, that's rocking the city?