Something's bread and butter is/are...

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JungKim

Senior Member
Korean
The following quote is from this article from dailycamera titled "Boulder's TeamSnap sees boosts in teams":
TeamSnap, a Boulder-based developer of an app to manage teams and groups...
...
TeamSnap's bread and butter are sports teams
; however, the company has a user base that includes church groups, dragonboat racers, cheese rollers and the Olim Soccer League of Israel, an eight-team league comprised of immigrants and refugees.
Is it grammatically correct in this particular context to use the plural verb "are" instead of the singular verb "is"?
 
  • JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    How would you know for sure that the subject is not 'TeamSnap's bread and butter' but 'sports teams'?
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Yes, it is, because the subject of the sentence is 'sports teams'.

    'Sports teams are TeamSnap's bread and butter'.

    Rover
    I disagree.
    'Sports teams are TeamSnap's bread and butter'.
    'TeamSnap's bread and butter is sports teams'.
    "Their strength is sports teams."
    Surely, you wouldn't say:
    "Their strength are sports teams." :eek:
    "The fruit in the basket are apples and oranges." :eek:
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    The grammatical question is whether "bread and butter" is plural (there are, after all, two items) or treated as a single unit. I'd probably treat it as a single unit, "TeamSnap's bread and butter is sports teams," but I don't think this is a firm rule. The sentence in the article, "TeamSnap's bread and butter are sports teams," sounds a bit odd to me - but not seriously wrong.

    "Careful - that horse and carriage is backing up!" or "Careful - that horse and carriage are backing up!" and many other examples pose the same problem: when we have two items that are commonly thought of as a single unit, do we use singular or plural?
     

    airelibre

    Senior Member
    English - London
    I wouldn't say it is criminal to use the plural for such units of more than one item but the singular seems more correct. "Bread and butter" is also a special case since it is an idiom. Some linguists have suggested that idioms are perceived by the brain to some extent as a single morpheme, which makes them syntactically and lexically inflexible. (Eg. You can't say "their butter and bread"... Or "their bread and margarine" while retaining the idiomatic meaning).
    If such idioms are seen as a single morpheme then grammatically they will probably function as a single item, hence "their bread and butter is..." seems preferable to me.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    "Careful - that horse and carriage is backing up!" or "Careful - that horse and carriage are backing up!" and many other examples pose the same problem: when we have two items that are commonly thought of as a single unit, do we use singular or plural?
    You could be hit by only the horse or only the carriage. Even though they are linked, they are separable objects. When the horse stops, the tackle could break allowing the carriage to continue. (If I wanted to be really pedantic, I might say only the horse is backing up. ;))
    I don't think some teams are bread while others are butter. :)
     

    airelibre

    Senior Member
    English - London
    You could be hit by either the horse or the carriage even though they are somewhat linked. I don't think some teams are bread while others are butter. :)
    Well, there's horse and there's carriage and then there's horse and carriage. I think you can see this phrase as a singular in most cases.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Well, there's horse and there's carriage and then there's horse and carriage. I think you can see this phrase as a singular in most cases.
    I wasn't disagreeing with that. I was pointing out that the singularity of "horse and carriage" is not a perfect comparison to the singularity of the idiom "bread and butter." There is more reason to consider them as a plurality.
     
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