All I have left is my memories.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by mhp, Dec 14, 2007.

  1. mhp Senior Member

    American English
    All I have (left) is/are my memories.

    Which verb should be used?

    Thank you.


    -----
    Edit: I think I have formulated my question poorly. My interest in asking the question is whether a singular or plural linking verb should be used when the subject is “all I have left” and the predicate is a countable or uncountable plural noun. So instead of opening another thread for essentially the same subject, I'd like to make that clarification.
     
  2. mhp Senior Member

    American English
    If instead of "memories" I say "my shoes" or "my friends", do you think that makes a difference?
     
  3. coleywoley New Member

    America English
    I would use are regardless. Even in the case of memories although I don't know that I can explain why.
     
  4. Blues Piano Man

    Blues Piano Man Senior Member

    Boulder, CO
    USA English
    Good point, mhp. I think I'll just get rid of my post. It can't be right.

    All I have left are my shoes.
    All I have left are my friends.
    All I have left are my memories. -- yeah that works for me.

    Thanks,
    Blues :)
     
  5. mhp Senior Member

    American English
    Thank you Blues Piano Man and coleywoley. You shouldn’t have deleted that reply Piano Man, it was quite good. I’d appreciate any further explanation or similar examples.
     
  6. Blues Piano Man

    Blues Piano Man Senior Member

    Boulder, CO
    USA English
    Hi mhp,

    I didn't think it was valuable. But since you asked, I went back in my browser history and was able to find it again. Here it is in all its dubious glory :)...

     
  7. mhp Senior Member

    American English
    Thank you again!
     
  8. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    1. The only thing I have left is my memories. Must be "is", to agree with "thing".

    2. All I have left is my memories. "All" = "the only thing".

    3. All I have left are my memories. "All" = "the only things".

    Number 1 and number 2 better emphasize how little I have left. Number 3 seems more logical, but I prefer number 1. Number 2 works better with a dramatic pause:

    2'. All I have left is ... my memories. :(
     
  9. mhp Senior Member

    American English
    Thank you Forero. Your post is very clear. I really like the way you have put it. :)
    However, let me ask the question again: Would you also consider: All I have left is my cats---i.e. Something that is clearly countable and plural.

    PS. Just to play the devil’s advocate: You can have everything; the only thing I ask for is/are my two cats.
     
  10. Nobody has so far suggested inverting these sentences to give a further clue.

    "My memories are all I have left" - no possibility of using "is".

    "My cats are all I have left" - end of story.

    Rover
     
  11. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    The verb has to agree with the subject, which in this type of sentence is first. "The only thing" is singular. "All" can be singular or plural, depending on what it is all of.

    As you may know, the subject in Spanish is the one that's plural or not third person, no matter what the order. But in English the subject is whichever comes first: "It is I", "The problem is my cats", "I am the one", "My cats are the problem".
     
  12. mhp Senior Member

    American English
    Thank you.

    So I think we all agree that if the predicate is clearly countable and plural, then the linking verb must also be plural:

    All I have left are my cats.

    I'm going to think out loud and see what others think.

    Let's take your example "The problem is my cats". I completely agree with this because 1) the subject is singular, and 2) “my cats” is viewed as a single problem.

    By analogy, in "all I have left is my memories", "my memories" can be considered a single collective---the same argument that Piano Man initially proposed: All I have left is a recollection of my memories.

    Now, my problem with this argument is that it is too general. We can always include extra words to change the syntax while maintaining the underlying meaning of the sentence:

    There are two books on the table.
    There is a collection of two books on the table. (Awkward, but syntactically correct)

    No matter how I look at it, I keep coming back to syntax of the original sentence. "My memories" is syntactically plural as Rover_KE has noted. So, as far as I can see, the verb must agree with it.
     
  13. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I'm with Forero, and Blues in his original post.

    The verb agrees with the subject. The subject in "All I have left is my memories" (or "...cats") is singular. So the verb is "is".*

    In a different context, the verb could be plural: "I've run out of clothes to wear. All I have left are dirty". All I have left = all the clothes I have left = plural.

    It used to be possible for the verb to agree with the complement. There's a famous biblical example: "The wages of sin is death". Today, though, that would have to be "the wages of sin are death":):eek:

    Loob
    * Whoops, I missed Forero's point that "All I have left" could mean "All the things I have left" and therefore be plural. I suppose it could; but I think that would be unusual without a plural reference point for "all" as per my third paragraph.
     
  14. mhp Senior Member

    American English
    Thank you for a very interesting post. :)

    I’m still not sure how Forero views the verb agreement if the predicate is countable. Perhaps, as he says, it is only a question of stress. He may even extend this view to countable objects. However, Blues Piano Man, even in his original post that he so kindly recovered, seems to think that if the predicate is countable, the verb should agree with the predicate: all I have left are two cats and a box of cereal.

    So I think you are the first person to say that the verb is always/normally singular, even for countable objects, without a previously mentioned reference point---in other words, the sentence cannot be self-referencing:

    All I have left is my two cats and a box of cereal.
    All I have left is my friends.
    All I have left is my memories.

    I have to admit that if I saw these sentences written by a person who is learning English, I’d automatically “correct” them---perhaps mistakenly so! :eek:
     
  15. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I hate to be out on a limb, mhp:eek:

    But I really do think that your sentences:

    All I have left is my two cats and a box of cereal.
    All I have left is my friends.
    All I have left is my memories.

    are correct...

    Loob
     
  16. Blues Piano Man

    Blues Piano Man Senior Member

    Boulder, CO
    USA English
    I started out calling mhp's question interesting. But I didn't expect it to get this interesting! :)

    I wonder if both "is" and "are" could work. And that the better choice is the one that better fits the speaker's focus...

    Focus is on what's left:
    All I have left are my friends
    - The speaker seems to be focussed on his (plural) friends so he uses "are."

    All I have left are two cats and a box of cereal.
    - The speaker seems to be focussed on the cats and the cereal.

    Focus is on "all":
    All I have left is my friends
    All I have left is two cats and a box of cereal.

    I think that works for me.

    All I have left is my memories - That's the only thing I have left.
    All I have left are my memories - I have a lot of good memories. That's my focus.

    What do you think?
    Blues :)
     
  17. mhp Senior Member

    American English
    Loob and Blues: Thank you. I’m starting to budge from my mindset, but grudgingly so.

    --All I have are my personal feelings--[Shinzon of Remus] :D
     
  18. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    My opinion is still that the verb will agree with its subject, not the predicate complement, so the question becomes: is the subject “all I have left” singular, or is it plural? It is logical for “all” to agree with “memories”, which is (count) plural, so “are” works. However, “are” is not the only choice, since “all” may also be taken as (noncount) singular, and “is” works as well.

    By the way, ”memories” is (count) plural, just like “shoes” or “cats”. “Memory” (singular) can be either count or noncount. When it means “something remembered”, “memory” is count, like “cat”; when it means “ability to remember”, it is generally noncount, like “ice”.

    But the fact that “memories” is plural does not make “all I have left” automatically plural (or singular) and hence does not determine whether the verb should be “are” (or “is”).

    As Loob points out, there are exceptions, when you look at the whole language, where the subject first rule or agreement rules break down: in Old English (Hit am ic = It am I), early modern English (wages is death), and when poetic license applies (“We was robbed!” [Joe Jacobs's 1932 enallage]). There are also exceptions with words like “people” (~ are funny), “oats” (~ is a cereal), etc., and odd sentence constructions like: "They were each annoyed at the other."

    And there is the expletive “there”, which cannot be a subject:

    This “there” is not a noun or pronoun. The subject to be agreed with follows the verb in these two sentences.
     
  19. mhp Senior Member

    American English
    Thank you for your comments Forero.
     
  20. Cagey post mod

    California
    English - US
    My first assumption was that all is singular when it is used as a pronoun, as it is here.

    However, Mirriam-Webster says that when all functions as a pronoun, it is "singular or plural in construction." (With this link, you'll have to select "all3, pronoun".)

    And on Dictionary.com, the American Heritage Dictionary says: of all as a pronoun: "The entire or total number, amount, or quantity; totality: All of us are sick. All that I have is yours."

    The dictionaries seem to agree with those who say that all takes its number from the noun it stands for.
     
  21. I can't believe the time and trouble so many people have gone to to answer this simple question with such abstruse and profound diatribes.

    I've already suggested that

    "My memories are all I have left" inverts to "All I have left are my memories".

    What's wrong with that?
     
  22. mhp Senior Member

    American English
    What gave you the impression that any of the previous replies is a diatribe?
    diatribe // n.
    a forceful verbal attack; a piece of bitter criticism.
    [Concise Oxford Dictionary Ninth Edition]
    But perhaps you are using that noun with its archaic meaning. :)

    Instead of giving you my views why your argument is wrong, I ask you to apply your argument to the phrase offered by Forero: “The problem is my two cats”. What is your conclusion?

    I have to make a personal confession. The reason that I did not reply to your earlier post is because I agreed with your result, but not your method. :eek:
    All your argument really shows is that “my memories” is syntactically plural.
     
  23. Fair comment. I was searching for "dissertation".

    "The problem is my two cats" sounds right, as does "My two cats are the problem".

    If they sound right, I don't feel the need to change them.
     

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