The Grammarphobia Blog

Do you hear mermaids singing each to each?

Q: “Each” takes a singular verb, but what if there are two of them? Example: “As we shall see, each major research method (e.g., laboratory experiments, surveys, computer simulations) and each type of outcome measure (e.g., self-reports, peer-ratings, behavioral ratings) have strengths and limitations.” Logically, the verb should be plural, but it sounds strange to me.

A: It may sound strange to you, but a plural verb is indeed appropriate in that sentence from The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (2005) by David M. Buss.

If we remove the grammatically extraneous stuff, the sentence has a plural compound subject: “each method and each type.” And a plural subject gets a plural verb: “have” in this case.

Excuse the digression, but this “each” business reminds us of T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. / I do not think that they will sing to me.”

Sometimes people ask us about a different kind of “each” sentence, one like this:

“As we shall see, each major research method (e.g., laboratory experiments, surveys, computer simulations) has strengths and limitations.”

They’re tempted to use a plural verb (“have” instead of “has”) because of all those parenthetical extras thrown in between the subject and the verb.

But the subject is singular (“each major research method”) despite the extra information inserted between the subject and the verb.

The extra information that tempts people to use a plural verb sometimes appears in parentheses, as above, but it’s sometimes inserted in other ways.

Here’s how Pat explains this in her grammar book Woe Is I (pages 49-50 in the third edition paperback):

● Extra information inserted between subject and verb doesn’t alter the verb.

           Spring’s glory was lost on Ollie.

           Spring’s glory, with its birds and its flowers and its trees, was lost on Ollie.

The subject, glory, is still singular, no matter how much information you add to it.

● Phrases such as accompanied by, added to, along with, as well as, coupled with, in addition to, and together with, inserted between subject and verb, don’t alter the verb.

           Spring was a tonic for Stan.

           Spring, along with a few occasional flirtations, was a tonic for Stan.

The subject is still spring, and is singular.

● Descriptions (adjectives) added to the subject don’t alter the verb.

           A substance was stuck to Stan’s shoe.

            A green, slimy, and foul-smelling substance was stuck to Stan’s shoe.

The subject is substance, and it stays singular no matter how many disgusting adjectives you pile on.

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