June 12, 2017

A compound subject is comprised of two or more parts joined by a conjunction (and, or, with). The main verb in a sentence has to agree with the subject, but in the case of a compound subject it is not always clear how to arrange this.

In this age of mass solicitation/advertisement (on TV, flyers, magazines, books, etc.) we are seeing more sentences with compound subjects. Which of the four sentences below are correct?

  1. If you or a loved one are depressed, call 234-5678.
  2. If your loved one or you are depressed, call 234-5678.
  3. If you or a loved one is depressed, call 234-5678.
  4. If your loved one or you is depressed, call 234-5678.

One right answer is that the second and third sentences are correct; the other two are not, because when your subject is compound (“you and/or a loved one”) the verb is conjugated to agree with the noun or pronoun nearest to it, not the one further away. We say “a correct answer,” rather than “the correct answer” because it is perhaps better to avoid the trap in the first place by repeating the verb here, to agree with each part of the subject separately.

  1. If you are depressed, or a loved one is, call 234-5678.
  2. If your loved one is depressed, or you are, call 234-5678.


Even more important is that the two (or more) parts of a compound subject or object must agree; i.e. they must be in the same case:

“My mom is in town. Her and I went to church” is incorrect.

“My mom is in town. She and me went to church” is incorrect as well.

It should be “she and I” (both pronouns in the same nominative/subject case).

“Send your requests to my partner and I.”  (This literally says, “Send requests to my partner or to I.”

The pronoun “I” should be declined into “me” (dative case) here.