EN: A few months suffice(s)

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sacha2b

Senior Member
French
Hi,

Could you please tell me:

1)If the two following sentences are correct:

A few months suffices to develop the programme
A few months suffice to develop the programme

2)If they are both correct, which of the two is the most used ?

3)How do you explain the "-s" in the first sentence (because months is plural) ?

I'd really appreciate if a linguist could give his opinion.

Thanks a lot.
 
  • misterk

    Moderator
    English-American
    If there is any explanation for "a few months suffices" it would be that "a period of" is understood -- "A period of a few months suffices to develop..."

    "A few months suffice" is the correct and more common formulation.

    I suspect that most English speakers would get around the problem by saying, "A few months should suffice..." or "A few months will suffice..."
     

    The Prof

    Senior Member
    The first sentence sounds totally wrong to me, because of the '-s'.

    The second sounds better, but I still have doubts about it.

    Usually, sentences using 'suffice' in this way are in the future tense, using 'will':
    - 'A few months will suffice ....' .

    I think that in the present tense, it would be more usual to say:
    -'A few months is sufficient (time) to ..... '.

    However, wait and see what someone with a better grammatical knowledge than me has to say!
     
    Hi sacha2b,

    This is a debated issue.
    Purists will tell you that both grammatically and semantically speaking, only A few months suffice to develop the programme. And this is because the verb must agree with the noun in number.
    In the same way, you will also hear, for example: "There's a lot of people in this room." which sounds fine in spoken English but may be reprimanded in written English.
    So, in my opinion, both are correct because neither violates the tranparency principle/rule (i.e. the statement has a transparent, clear meaning). Saying that one is more correct than the other is just a question of adhering to prescriptive linguistics instead of descriptive linguistics.

    Hope this helps,
     
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    sacha2b

    Senior Member
    French
    Thank you all !

    Indeed it helps !

    Actually, I'm studying: "A few months suffices...".
    Since you told me that the two sentences are correct, this means the narrator made a deliberate choice. As misterk said, I think the "-s" reveals the presence of an ellipsis. Do you have any other explanation ?

    I have modified the end of the sentence because it was too long. The genuine sentence (dated 1852) appears here http://www.online-literature.com/samuel-butler/evolution-old-and-new/18/
    The scientific context can provide more information...
     

    The Prof

    Senior Member
    I'm studying: "A few months suffices...".
    Since you told me that the two sentences are correct, this means the narrator made a deliberate choice. As misterk said, I think the "-s" reveals the presence of an ellipsis. Do you have any other explanation ?
    My own justification for it would be that the writer was actually thinking of a few months as a period of time, singular:

    '(A period of) two months suffices...'
     
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