what the culture and the way of life for the people was like

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SuprunP

Senior Member
Ukrainian & Russian
What was the object used for?:
Historians may be able to figure out what the culture and the way of life for the people was like from the artifact.
(The New Children's Encyclopedia)

Would it be acceptable if I said "Historians may be able to figure out what the culture and the way of life for the people were like from the artifact."?

Thanks.
 
  • JuanEscritor

    Senior Member
    English - AmE
    Yes, in fact, were is the only acceptable form of the verb to use here since you are talking about 'culture and way of life...', which is plural.

    I'd say the original text has an editing error.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I wouldn't treat "culture" and "way of life" as two separate things, Suprun. In this context, they are really synonymous: a people's culture = a people's way of life. Choose either "culture" or "way of life" and be aware that you haven't lost any meaning by doing so: Historians may be able to figure out what the people's culture was from the artifact. Or: Historians may be able to figure out what the people's way of life was from the artifact.
     
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    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    Even if "culture" and "way of life" were "nearly synonymous" they are still grammatically separate and need to be treated as a plural subject.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Even if "culture" and "way of life" were "nearly synonymous" they are still grammatically separate and need to be treated as a plural subject.
    Not if you eliminate one of them, fdb. That's what I'm suggesting. The whole "were" problem disappears once you realize that either "culture" or "way of life" is needless.

    Years ago, I took a few elective courses in anthropology. On the first day of class in "Cultural Anthropology 101", our professor defined "culture" as "a people's way of life". I accept that definition in this context and regard "what the culture and the way of life for the people were" as needlessly wordy.
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    We can use a singular verb with two items treated as forming a single entity: the fish and chips was nice, for example, or his joy and happiness was evident.

    However, I'd be more inclined to accept "was" here if the authors had dropped the "the" before "way of life". And if I hadn't found on the same page (my highlighting):
    The work of archaeologists help historians to know more about early people.
    :(
     
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