The Grammarphobia Blog

Grammar in real time

Q: I recently attended a seminar for court stenographers. One section was entitled, “Realtime and You Is Not a Conflict.” Shouldn’t the verb be “are” and not “is”? I am required to attend these seminars to maintain my license, but perhaps the educators may need some education!

A: Not so fast. The educators know a thing or two.

This is one of those cases that seem to trump the rules of subject-verb agreement.

In fact, we suspect that the educators (or the organizers of the seminar) liked the title for just that reason—it gets one’s attention.

Here, “real time and you” is not a compound subject that takes a plural verb (as would be the case with “Real time and you are often in conflict”).

In this case, “real time and you” encompasses one idea and is considered a single entity. And when two or more subjects amount to a single thing, then the verb is singular.

So, it’s correct to say “Real time and you is not a conflict.” A similar sentence may make it easier for you to see: “Real time and you IS the subject of the seminar.”

Here are a few more examples in which two subjects joined by “and” express one idea and require a singular verb:

“Love and marriage is Jane Austen’s favorite theme” … “His chief supporter and best friend is his wife” … “Macaroni and cheese is a staple at the diner” … “Their separation and divorce was a catastrophe.”

Note that in all these cases, a compound subject that would normally be plural is instead singular when it’s equated with a singular thing, person, or idea (“theme” … “wife” … “staple” … “catastrophe”).

If those same subjects were NOT identified with a singular thing, they would be construed as plural:

“Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage” … “His chief supporter and best friend were witnesses for the defense” … “Macaroni and cheese belong to different food groups” … “Their separation and divorce were followed by a reconciliation.”

In standard dictionaries, by the way, “real time” is still two words when used as a noun; the adjective is hyphenated: “real-time.”

But a Google search in real time finds that millions of people like to mush together the noun and adjective as “realtime.”   

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