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USES OF THE CONCORD OF NUMBER.
use the plural form when plurality in the subject is of importance; and to make choice of a neuter form when it is better not to call attention to the number of the subject.
As regards emphatic singulars, we have not in the language any stronger words, nor any more effective aids, to impress the individuality of the subject, than the third person singular, present and past, of 'be'. 'God is', There is a God', give an intense expression of the unity of God, as taught in monotheistic religions.
Next to 'is', we may place the singular pronouns and demonstratives, which still farther contribute to the emphasis of individuality : I, thou, he, she, it, this, that, my, thy, his, her. Consider how strongly the attention is fixed upon the singleness of the individual in the following verse : 'Who is this that cometh from Edom ? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength'.
The occasions are frequent when plurality is an important and leading circumstance; and when the help of concord is not to be thrown away. * The gates are closed’ is a signifi. cant and serviceable concord, to signify that the approaches, one and all, are now shut; but if, as sometimes happens, the plural 'gates' means only the two halves of one gate, the plural verb is wasted on an idle concord.
There is a striking and appropriate emphasis of plurality in the following, from Macaulay : ‘The principal strong. holds of the Englishry during this evil time were Enniskillen and Londonderry’; a model sentence in every way.
Socrates does not believe in the gods that the Athenians believe in'. Here the concord of the verb suits the emphasis of the occasion: Socrates stands alone in his views; the Athenians agree in theirs; it is one man against the multi. tude.
More numerous still are the cases where plurality, although unavoidably stated by the noun, is wholly unimportant, and where one feels relief in not having the attention called to it by a plural verb. For such cases, our neutral forms are a convenience; and there may be occasions when it is worth the trouble to select them.
First of all, in false plurals, or plural nouns with singular meaning, we may not always be at liberty to use the singular construction. If I say "His nerves is exhausted', I seem guilty of bad grammar; 'nerves' being accounted a real plural, as it really is in the regular use of the word'the spinal nerves ', 'the nerves of the face'. But in the phrase quoted, the word is figurative for the nervous system collectively; and it is a pity to drag the concord of the verb into the service of a figure of speech. Let us therefore say, in some evasive form : ‘his nerves may be exhausted', he has exhausted his nerves', and so on.
• The accounts are unfavourable' often means some single communication, although the noun is plural : we hear unfavourable accounts'.
• Cards were invented to amuse an insane king'. This is wholly improper, and yet it would shock our ears to say
cards was invented'. We should either put it—The game of cards ’, or change the form-Some one invented cards ', &c.
His remains were buried' is awkward ; remains' is a false plural: 'they buried his remains', 'he was interred'.
‘Languages are too much regarded as an end'. The meaning here is collective, yet we could not say 'is'. Change the construction : ‘Language is too much regarded', ‘ people are apt to regard languages as an end'.
* The expenses are considerable'. This plural often signifies one particular outlay; and to add the plural verb (especially the marked plurals of the verb ‘be ') is to go beyond the necessities of the case. Either say the 'expense’, or use a neutral construction: ‘the expenses would, might, must be -'.
'Damages were awarded’; the jury awarded damages '.
• The three angles of a triangle are together equal to two right angles'. This is certainly wrong, but the remedy does not consist in making the verb singular : ‘The sum of the three angles—is'; or • The three angles may be shown to be
• The well-known verses of Moschus on the perpetual re
CONVENIENCE OF A NEUTRAL NUMBER.
nascence of vegetables are founded on a false antithesis', It cannot be the case that these verses are individually and separately founded, it is that the entire collection, or the poem, is founded. This is a case for evading the concord.
• At thy right hand are pleasures for evermore'. The plural noun here means, not so much variety, or plurality, as intensity or amount.
• The cock's shrill clarion or the echoing horn
No more shall rouse them'. If we were to change ‘or' into 'and', the 'shall' would be a convenient evasion of the plural, there being no occasion to trouble the reader with the separate action of the two rousing influences.
Truths that wake
Nor man, nor boy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy!' Here though the verb should formally be singular, still the number of alternated subjects is strongly suggestive of plurality; and 'can' is fortunately neutral.
It is an aggravation of the unnecessary plurals of nouns of material-bricks, coals, apples, potatoes, peas, eggs, rags -to construe them with the plural verb : 'Eggs are a shilling a dozen'; 'bricks are scarce'.
So with the poetic metaphors—the shadows of the night, the tremblings of the dawn, the freshened fields, the waters of the Jordan; we should, if possible, avoid the too literal effect of a plural concord.
Let us try the working of these considerations in ordinary composition.
*But an aggregate [collective noun] of contemporary individuals of the same species cannot [good evasion of number] be properly said to form a generation, except by assuming that they, and also their children, are all born respectively at the same time (the plural are' is especially wanted; there is an emphasis put upon the separateness of the individuals).'
One generation of men does not go off the stage at once, and another succeed'. The singular does' is too individual for the occasion, while the plural form is not allowed; there is a convenient neutrality in the ellipsis another succeed'.
Take a few sentences from one of Macaulay's highlywrought passages, where he omitted no device that he thought suitable for emphasis.
'It is the nature of man to overrate present evil, and to underrate present good; to long for what he has not, and to be dissatisfied with what he has'. The singulars here are very emphatic, and strictly grammatical. There are four subjects to 'is'-a synonymous pair of obverse couples; the singular is admissible, and preferable. For 'man' or 'mankind', the author boldly uses 'he', and gets the benefit of individual action, which is always more impressive than a diluted plurality where the separate action is not manifest and imposing
This propensity, as it appears in individuals, has often been noticed both by laughing and by weeping philosophers'. It is good to individualize the propensity; and the duty is amply performed by four concords. The plurals ‘indi. viduals' and 'philosophers' are as well out of the
of the concords; it is not necessary to carry farther the emphasis of plurality.
' It was a favourite theme of Horace and of Pascal'. The singular emphasis is still farther sustained by the singular predicate, ' a theme'. There is now quite enough of singularizing stress.
• To its influence on the fate of great communities may be [are to be] ascribed most of the revolutions and counter-revolutions recorded in history'. These plurals are important and significant enough to have the support of plural concords; it is not in one community, but in many, not one revolution, but a great number. We may, therefore, change the neutral may be’ to the emphatic plural' are to be'.
‘A hundred generations have passed away since the first great national emancipation, of which an account has come down to us'. The ‘have' is emphatically in concord with
WEAKNESS OF THE NEUTER PRONOUN.
the 'hundred', although it is usual to take time in the lump, even when expressed by number. The ‘has' is a needless obtrusion of singularity. The sentence, on other grounds, is improvable: 'the first great national emancipation that has been recorded-on record'.
CONCORD OF GENDER.
The Concord of Gender does not call for much discussion. I shall be content with noticing the distinction between personality, whether masculine or feminine, and impersonality.
A personal subject has for concords the personal pronouns, and the adjectives formed from them—my, mine, his, her, &c. An impersonal subject is mainly supported by the pronoun “it'. We have also a neuter relative' which'.
Notwithstanding the very full discussion of it’under THE PRONOUN, a further remark may be made in the present connection. This pronoun, being so much used for trivial matters, and often for almost nothing at all, is rendered inadequate to express a vast subject with dignity. Every one must feel that for vast, powerful, imposing objects, there is a letting down when these have to be referred to by 'it'.
For example :— With him, co-infinite with immensity, coeval with eternity, the universe is a span, its duration a moment.' Try and avoid the pronoun-'the universe in extent is a span, in duration a moment'.
. Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty's form
Glasses itself in tempests.' (Byron.) Could be avoided by 'is glassed', or by `the Almighty glasses His form '.
« 'Tis Heaven itself (Heaven's own self) that points out an Hereafter'. (Addison.)
• The great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve'. In the following, we might fancy an appropriateness in the all-work pronoun to help out the speaker's energetic contempt: This most excellent canopy, the air, look you,