Q: A sentence that I’m writing has me stumped: “It is remarkable that both Jan Luyken as well as his father, Caspar Luyken, took it upon themselves to defend in writing two of the important ‘leaders’ from the 17th century.” Is this correct?
A: There are a couple of problems with that sentence about the Dutch poet and engraver Jan Luyken (1649-1712) and his father, Caspar, a Mennonite writer.
First, you shouldn’t have used “both” and “as well as.” Pat discusses this on page 92 of the third edition paperback of her grammar book Woe Is I:
“BOTH/AS WELL AS. Use one or the other, but not both. Carrie had both a facial and a massage. Or: Carrie had a facial as well as a massage.”
Next, the choice of either “both” or “as well as” determines whether the reflexive pronoun in that sentence is singular (“himself”) or plural (“themselves”).
The critical part of that sentence can be correctly written two ways:
(1) “both Jan Luyken and his father, Caspar Luyken, took it upon themselves”;
(2) “Jan Luyken as well as his father, Caspar Luyken, took it upon himself.”
With #1, which has a compound subject, you should use the plural pronoun “themselves.”
With #2, which has a singular subject, you should use “himself.”
The key here is that the information following the phrase “as well as” doesn’t make the subject plural. Pat has written about this on page 49 of Woe Is I:
“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.”
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