Confusion with To be

" Rain and snow are phenomena of nature."

Is this sentence grammatically right? I thought the form of 'to be' would depend on the right before word which is 'snow', then maybe we should use 'is' instead of 'are'.
Could anyone explain the point? Thank you so much


  • In English, the principle that a verb should 'agree' with the nearest word is regarded as false. In complicated sentences, we sometimes follow the principle (sometimes known as the proximity principle) — but not in simple sentences like Rain and snow are phenomena of nature.

    I don't think any native English speaker could say Rain and snow is phenomenon of nature . Phenomenon is an unusual word, but I think everybody can see that it can't be used in the singular like this without a or the or some other grammatical word before it.

    So what about Rain and snow is a phenomenon of nature? A native English speaker might use it to mean 'preciptation is a phenomenon of nature'. There are four problems with this

    1. Rain and snow together don't from a complete set. It would be more sensible to say Rain, sleet, hail and snow is a phenomenon of nature or Rain, snow and other forms of precipitation is a phenomenon of nature or even Rain, snow and the rest is a phenomenon of nature.

    2. Rain and snow are not usually thought of together. Anyone who hears the phrase rain and snow is highly likely to expect the speaker to refer to some difference between them, or to some unexpected similarity.

    3. Although the speaker may be thinking of precipitation as a single concept, the mention of four different examples, or of two and the rest will signal plurality to the hearer.

    4. The presence of the word phenomenon suggests that the speaker is being formal. And formal language calls for careful standard grammar.

    Now, suppose we complicate the sentence: let's lengthen both the subject and the words after be — often called the complement.

    SUBJECT Rain, snow and any other form of presentation that you can think of
    COMPLEMENT what scientists might call ... of nature.

    With a long time-difference from the start to the end of the sentence, a speaker might be influenced by the proximity principle and say:

    Rain, snow (PAUSE) and any other form of presentation that you can think of (PAUSE) is what scientists might call a phenomenon of nature.

    A speaker might say it, but a writer is much more likely to find it ungrammatical — and correct is to are.

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