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January 29th, 2004
01:21 pm

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Verb poll

Which is correct?

"There was 9 feet 4 inches of snow."
6(37.5%)
"There were 9 feet 4 inches of snow."
8(50.0%)
Either is correct.
1(6.2%)
I don't know.
1(6.2%)

Which is correct?

"There was 9 feet 1 inch of snow."
10(62.5%)
"There were 9 feet 1 inch of snow."
4(25.0%)
Either is correct.
1(6.2%)
I don't know.
1(6.2%)

(23 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
From:volta
Date:January 29th, 2004 10:58 am (UTC)
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No matter how big the snow is, it is still just a single snow.
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From:queue
Date:January 29th, 2004 11:05 am (UTC)

Re:

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What if I were to drop "of snow"?

"There was 9 feet 4 inches."
From:volta
Date:January 29th, 2004 11:13 am (UTC)

Re:

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Then you would have a sentence with no subject, or, at best, an implied subject.
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From:queue
Date:January 29th, 2004 11:23 am (UTC)

Re:

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I believe that "there" is acting as a pronoun in these kinds of sentences, so it would technically be the subject. The real question is what is the object in "9 feet 4 inches of snow". Or maybe it's just a matter of it being an idom. I'm not terribly sure.
From:volta
Date:January 29th, 2004 11:40 am (UTC)

Re:

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Could be. I am mostly talking out of my ass here; English is not my primary language.
From:volta
Date:January 29th, 2004 11:41 am (UTC)

Re:

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What is an 'idom'? 'idiom'?
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From:queue
Date:January 29th, 2004 12:00 pm (UTC)

Re:

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Yeah. I'm an idoimit.
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From:queue
Date:January 29th, 2004 12:01 pm (UTC)

Re:

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Damn. Good thing there are no Queue points for comments.
(Deleted comment)
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From:queue
Date:January 29th, 2004 12:50 pm (UTC)

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I think you may have hit on the crux, which is that it is a measurement. It's related to the less/fewer thing, I think.

From the AHD:
Usage Note: The traditional rule holds that fewer should be used for things that can be counted (fewer than four players), while less should be used with mass terms for things of measurable extent (less paper; less than a gallon of paint). However, less is used in some constructions where fewer would occur if the traditional rule were being followed. Less thancan be used before a plural noun that denotes a measure of time, amount, or distance: less than three weeks; less than $400; less than 50 miles. Less is sometimes used with plural nouns in the expressions no less than (as in No less than 30 of his colleagues signed the letter) and or less (as in Give your reasons in 25 words or less).

So this would fall under distance, so you would use "less", and thus "was". Sounds good to me, anyway.
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From:magid
Date:January 29th, 2004 11:22 am (UTC)
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It is never correct to have more than 9 feet of snow.

*snerk*
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From:dannarra
Date:January 29th, 2004 11:29 am (UTC)

I still am not sure

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Well I can take heart in knowing that I'd never state the volume of snow in a conversation in that way.

Hey it snowed.
How much.
Well, I can't see the car.
Enough to shovel then.
Ever wish you'd bought a truck with a plow attachment?
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From:queue
Date:January 29th, 2004 11:33 am (UTC)

I wish we could write math problems like that

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It snowed a buttload at the ski resort. After a few Irish coffees in the lounge, you noticed that it had snowed quite a bit more. What was the rate of change in the snow level in inches per minute?
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From:dannarra
Date:January 29th, 2004 12:15 pm (UTC)

Re: I wish we could write math problems like that

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about 3 Irish coffees worth.
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From:beowabbit
Date:January 29th, 2004 12:33 pm (UTC)
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I wrote "either is correct", but it depends how you parse it.

"There was 9 feet 4 inches of snow" is short for "There was snow. 9'4" of it, in fact."

"There were 9 feet 4 inches of snow" is a lot weirder, but I can wrap my brain around it. It's short for "There were nine feet and four inches. Of fabric? No, of snow." It's like "It was a seven-foot length of board, so we used five feet and there were two feet left over" versus "It was a six-foot length of board, so we used five feet and there was one foot left over."

In any case, it doesn't make a difference to me whether it's 9'4" or 9'1". (It *would* make a bit of a difference in which I preferred if the "were/was" were right next to the "1/4", though, just because it sounds a little weird to have a plural verb next to a "1". So "there was 1'4" of snow on the ground" or "4'1" of snow were on the ground" sound particularly bad, but that's not a deep-grammar issue, it's a "what happens to sound a bit funny by accident" sort of issue.

Disclaimer: I was a linguistics major in college, so I am perfectly capable of convincing myself that "I don't know the woman who your coven's High Priestess conducted the handfasting of Barry and" is grammatical and that "round wheels turn smoothly" isn't if I set my mind to it.
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From:mattlistener
Date:January 29th, 2004 12:52 pm (UTC)
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"of snow" is a prepositional phrase and can be dropped without changing the grammar of the rest of the sentence.

"9 feet 1 inch" is short for "9 feet and 1 inch", which is plural.

Therefore "were" in both cases. (I'd probably say "was" in both cases, but you asked which is correct.)

Tough one!
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From:queue
Date:January 29th, 2004 01:19 pm (UTC)

Re:

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So, you're saying that it's plural because of the "and"? So what about just "9 feet"?

"There were 9 feet"?
"There was 9 feet"?
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From:mattlistener
Date:January 29th, 2004 01:40 pm (UTC)

Re:

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Correct would be: "there were 9 feet of snow".

What I'd actually say: "there was 9 feet of snow". Probably in the sense of "there was a 9 feet of snow event."

Yeah, the "event" sense if definitely in play here. Here's how I'd naturally write the following sentences:

"There was 9 feet of snow last night."
"There were 9 feet of snow on the porch this morning."

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From:queue
Date:January 29th, 2004 01:54 pm (UTC)

Re:

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See my response above (if you haven't already) about the less/fewer thing and measures of distance. I'm beginning to think "was" is what's correct.

I'm enjoying getting all of these perspectives on the question, though. Very interesting little bit of grammar.
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From:spwebdesign
Date:January 29th, 2004 03:10 pm (UTC)

Re:

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You are correct, and mattlistener is, alas, mistaken. One doesn't ask how many snow there is, one asks how much snow there is. One is asking the quantity, not the number. It is precisely a less/fewer thing and "was" is the correct conjugation.
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From:bitty
Date:January 30th, 2004 04:54 am (UTC)

who gives a shit what's correct

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...it's what sounds better.
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From:queue
Date:January 30th, 2004 05:02 am (UTC)

Re: who gives a shit what's correct

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Often, something sounds better because it is correct, because that's the way we're used to saying it.

Of course, that's often not true.
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From:spwebdesign
Date:January 30th, 2004 07:54 am (UTC)
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"Often, something sounds better because it is correct, because that's the way we're used to saying it."

There's truth to that, but it's not simply because we're used to saying that. Matt Ridley, in his book Genome, demonstrates how grammar has become genetically ingrained in humans. Even before we develop language and vocabulary, we have a sense of grammar acquired over millenia. It's a very interesting discussion which I think you might enjoy reading.
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From:queue
Date:January 30th, 2004 09:21 am (UTC)
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That sounds pretty interesting. I think I'm going to have to look for that book the next time I go to the library.
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