Richard recently asked “You spoke of using the correlative conjunctions ‘not only, but also’ with several different helpful examples, but there’s one example you did not present – when there are two singular subjects in a positive structure. What would we say in the following example:
- Not only John, but also his wife is/are going to graduate.
- Not only he, but also she is/are going to graduate.
Do we use ‘is’ or ‘are’ here? We are talking about both subjects doing something.”
When you have two singular words joined by not only . . . but also, the subject is singular and so you use a singular verb. This would cover your examples. Both words are singular–“John” and “wife,” “he” and “she.” So the correct word in both cases would be “is.”
- Not only John but also his wife is going to graduate.
- Not only he but also she is going to graduate.
You should also notice that there are no commas in that sentence. Most sources I reviewed said there would be no commas unless it was confusing. I don’t think that fits here.
Thanks for the question, Richard, and I hope you got the answer you were looking for. If anyone still has questions, check out the blog post “Not Only More Subject/Verb Agreement But Also Intervening Clauses” for more information about this and more or Ask PTB at the tab above.
Back when I was learning grammar and diagramming sentences, using a coordinating conjunction such as and or but to start a sentence was against all rules. Now I find out that it was probably against the rules because it was an easy way for our English teachers to make sure we didn’t have sentence fragments. The use of a conjunction to start a sentence is a good way to draw special attention to that sentence. However, it is very informal and conversational. Because of that, it won’t work in a legal brief or other “formal” writing. If you want to use a coordinating conjunction to start a sentence, make sure you are using it for emphasis and be very careful it is not just a sentence fragment. Here are some examples:
Groucho Marx wrote in his thank you note: “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”
Tell her to return my voicemail message. Or else.
These are both very good examples of starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions for emphasis.
Tell him to come to my office. And read the report.
This is a fragment. The sentence starting with the coordinating conjunction doesn’t make sense and doesn’t need special emphasis. It is more of an afterthought.
The danger of starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions is that doing it too much quickly loses its effectiveness. I still don’t like it and change it in most documents I proofread. Whether the attorney author accepts my changes is quite another thing, but at least I’ve made my point.
So the basic rule is to use coordinating conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence sparingly for emphasis but not in a formal writing. And not when I’m proofing your work.