Saturday, July 30, 2016

Everybody and his brother is or are

A reader (and writer) asked: “everybody and his brother is ,” or “everybody and his brother are ”?

My answer: is . I consulted Garner’s Modern English Usage (2016), The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1997), and The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (1989) and found nothing. My homemade argument for is is that the phrase everybody and his brother is an intensification of everybody , which takes a singular verb. When you think about it, everybody already includes that brother.

Google search results support is — which is not to say that whatever is more frequent is right. But the numbers are telling:

everybody . . . are : 10,400
everybody . . . is : 60,700
everyone . . . are : 32,500
everyone . . . is : 178,000
The Google Ngram Viewer shows everybody . . . is and everyone . . . is as the preferred forms in our time (though from 1947 to 1953, everybody . . . are ruled). For whatever reason, the Ngram Viewer shows nothing for everyone . . . are , and it shows everybody . . . is dropping steadily since 1995 as everyone . . . is rises. My guess is that everyone is winning because it’s the shorter word.

After doing all that looking, I found a post by the linguist Arnold Zwicky about everybody and his — suffice it to say that a naughty comic strip prompts his investigation. Zwicky’s conclusion about is and are: “Either choice is acceptable (and reasonable) — there’s no One Right Way — though there’s often a considerable preference for one choice in practice.”

My correspondent and I agree that is is less likely to call attention to itself than are . I would hope everybody and his brother agrees.

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